Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Side Streets: Colorado Springs rallies for courageous teenager

By Bill Vogrin Published: November 8, 2013 0

Need your faith in humanity restored?

Consider how various groups are coming together on behalf of a Colorado Springs family facing more than its share of troubles.

Maybe you remember the story of Jonah Pfennigs. He's a 14-year-old freshman at Doherty High School who has been in the newspaper over the years for his battle with cancer. Those stories always made me smile because they reflected Jonah's remarkable courage and upbeat attitude. (And how could I not like a fellow Kansas City Chiefs fan in the heart of Broncos country? Talk about courage.)

As a toddler, Jonah was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

On Oct. 30, 2002, at age 3, Jonah received a bone marrow transplant from his 4-year-old brother, Sam. Jonah recovered and on his 10th anniversary was considered cured, said his mother, Kim Pfennigs.

So imagine the family's shock when, just two weeks ago Friday, doctors discovered Jonah's cancer is back with a vengeance.

"It was almost 11 years to the day after he received his bone marrow transplant," Kim said in disbelief. "Jonah had relapsed with the same cancer he was diagnosed with when he was 2.

"Everybody is flabbergasted."

Even worse, the initial lab results were pretty scary.

"Initially when they looked at his spinal fluid, they thought they saw (cancer) cells," Kim said quietly. "And his bone marrow was so full of (cancer) cells when we first went in."

The family immediately removed him from Doherty and got him to Children's Hospital Colorado in Denver. Surgery was scheduled that Sunday so chemotherapy could begin immediately. (As a true Chiefs fan, Jonah asked his surgery be scheduled around that day's broadcast of the Kansas City game against the Cleveland Browns.)

Now, Jonah is in the midst of the first of several 28-day cycles of chemotherapy in preparation for another anticipated bone marrow transplant. His father, David Pfennigs, is with him in Denver while Kim stays home to hold down her nursing job and preserve her insurance benefits.

Between the grueling therapy sessions, they'd like to bring him back to the family's Old Farm home.

There's just one problem. The 29-year-old carpeting needs to be replaced and the house disinfected before Jonah can safely be there.

"With chemo, his immune system will pretty well tank for the next nine to 12 months," Kim said.

So, you might be wondering, why doesn't she just have it replaced?

The family isn't exactly flush with cash. Besides Jonah's decade of bills, they've had to deal with expenses associated with surgery and other treatment for David, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease at age 39 in 1995.

Parkinson's is a progressive, degenerative neurological disease that attacks bodily functions including breathing, balance, movement, and heart function. There is no cure but some are finding help from treatments including deep brain stimulation. David had the surgery, Kim said, and improved for a time although he remains unable to work full time.

My faith in humanity was restored when I learned of the way folks are embracing the Pfennigs' as they fight Jonah's leukemia.

First there's the Doherty High community.

"Sam is a sophomore and a member of the junior varsity basketball team," Kim said. "They heard about Jonah and the team is coming over Saturday morning to rip out the carpeting."

Then there's the nurses and medical technicians from Memorial Hospital's former Blood Donor Center who admire the courageous battles being waged by Jonah and David and appreciate Kim's decade of monthly platelet donations.

The group of 30 or so scattered after Memorial closed the blood bank but get together for SAS - Service, Adventure and Social - activities each month. On Saturday afternoon, the SASers will meet at the Pfennigs' home to sterilize it best they can so new laminate flooring can be installed.

I asked Benita Thomas, a retired medical technologist and one of the lead SASers, about the project.

"For many years, we were involved with a wonderful group in Colorado Springs that donates blood and platelets," Benita said. "We just want to continue the blessings of helping people like this when we find them.

"That's just how we roll."

Finally, Kim's 18-year-old daughter, Emma, told a friend about the family's plight. Suddenly, PCI Construction Services was donating laminate and labor for installation early next week.

Once everything is finished, Jonah will be able to come home between chemo treatments.

And there's even better news. Jonah is responding well to the initial treatments. The cancer cells in his bone marrow have disappeared and his spinal fluid is believed clear of cancer cells. Doctors may even be able to accelerate his next bone marrow transplant.

"It's a huge miracle and a blessing," Kim said.

And she is blown away by the generosity of friends and strangers alike who are helping the family.

"It's amazing, all the help we've received," she said. "Everyone has rallied around us.

"What a community."

-

Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets

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