Derek Graffis was a normal, active 18 year old high school senior looking forward to going to college when he was first diagnosed with AcuteLymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in March 2008. We initially thought that his fatigue was due to a weird bug he might have picked up one year earlier when he was in Ethiopia with his high school youth group from the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, but his cancer diagnosis was undeniable.
Derek immediately began intensive chemotherapy treatments at Lehigh Valley Hospital and the Pediatric Specialty Group, which was successful in achieving remission of his cancer just prior to his high school graduation. During the graduation ceremonies, he was recognized for having the highest number of volunteer and community service hours out of his senior class of over 800 students. Despite the side effects of his ongoing chemotherapy, Derek continued to move forward with his plans to become an Industrial Technology teacher by enrolling at Millersville University. His ongoing chemo treatments caused him to miss his first semester of college, but he was able to start his college studies in January 2009. He greatly enjoyed his classes and his professors, and successfully completed his first semester of college.
2009 was a year of “fairly normal” activities for Derek, as he was able to resume many of his former activities, albeit with regular chemotherapy and clinical treatments. That summer, he and his family were treated to a “trip of alifetime” by Dream Come True and the National Geographic Society, as they took an Alaskan cruise onboard one of the National Geographic expedition ships. Derek thoroughly enjoyed all the activities, especially kayaking among the icebergs and photographing whales, brown bears, sea lions and otters, and even curious flowers and colorful slugs. In the fall, Derek continued his studies at Millersville University, furthering his dream of becoming a technology teacher and sharing his expertise with tools and machines with others.
Unfortunately, Derek’s cancer returned in March 2010. This time, his doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant to provide better odds for his long term survivability. While Derek once again took on the intensive chemotherapy regimen to get his cancer into remission, the search began for a matching bone marrow donor. None of his family members were a match, so withthe help of Angel 34 Foundation, the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, and the National Marrow Donor Program, a bone marrow donor drive was held in his honor on May 1,2010, with over 350 people agreeing to sign up to be life-saving donors. Incredibly, on May 4, just a few days after this huge event, Derek found out that a “perfect genetic match” had been found for him, which he later found out was from someone in the U.S. in the Mountain Time Zone.
Derek went to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in mid-June for his bone marrow transplant, an invasive and scary procedure, but he never complained or questioned why he had to follow this difficult path. His transplant was successful, and he was released from the hospital in late July. Unfortunately, a few months later his body started rejecting the new cells, and he tried valiantly to fight through and overcome the rejection, but the toll on his body was too great. He passed away peacefully at Children's Hospital of Philadelphiaon December 17, 2010, just a few days after his 21st birthday.