Support helps in fight with leukemia
June 13, 2008 · Updated 1:40 PM
"Kent Klingman thought the worst when he was called off the job to answer a phone call about a medical emergency. He had been summoned via radio from the site, where he worked as an electrical construction supervisor.Is it Jaqueline? She just started first grade. Did she fall on the playground or staple her fingers together or, heaven forbid, something worse?The call wasnt about Jacqueline or his younger daughter, Samantha, and it wasnt about his wife Rhonda.The call was about Klingman himself, and it sent him into a mild state of shock You have leukemia, he was told. He needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible.How could that be? After all, it was just a common cold that sent him to the clinic. The cold was persistent, sure, but its just a cold. The swollen lymph nodes and 103-degree temperature arent that unusual. leukemia? That cant be right. How could they discover leukemia just from a routine physical? What am I going to tell Rhonda? Breaking the news to my family was the hardest part, said Klingman, who was diagnosed in December 1996. Jaque was 6 then. She took it hard. It set her back a little bit.Klingman called Rhonda and told her to meet him at home. He broke the news and they immediately headed for the Virginia Mason Clinic in Seattle where the news only got worse. Without treatment, he was told, Klingman would live just six to eight weeks.I had heard of leukemia but I didnt even really know what it was, Rhonda said. It wasnt something that we could really think about, it was kind of like a dream or a nightmare.That was three years ago. Today, Klingman, his family and friends are knocking around golf balls at the third annual Klingman Charity Golf Tournament and Auction at Lake Wilderness Golf Course in Maple Valley. Klingman is not raising money for his own bills incurred during his three-year battle, but for the Fred Hutchinson Family Assistance Program, which has given him so much support during these trying times. The tournament and auction raised more than $23,000 last year to help pay for Klingmans expenses during the first two years of the fight for his life. Hes still not back to work yet, but hes finally well enough to go out into the general public and think about returning to work.Hes never really had a why-me? attitude, said Mike Salgado, a friend and classmate of Klingman at Thomas Jefferson High School and Washington State University. His will is pretty strong. It was nice to see friends surround him and give him support.Salgado was one of the main supporters, coming up with the idea of the golf tournament. He and fellow Jefferson graduates Steve McCauley, Dwayne Ziegler, Carol Thompson and Kents brother Kurt Klingman put the first tournament together in just a few weeks.We just wanted to do what we could to ease that pain, Salgado said.The journey to this juncture certainly has had its trials, including one point where Klingman wasnt expected to live through the night.After receiving the initial diagnosis, Klingman didnt really know what to do next.It really didnt sink in, he said. I did hesitate for a day or two.But he couldnt afford to wait too long. His life depended on quick precise treatment. The acute mylogenous leukemia he was afflicted with is the same type of cancer that Seattle School District Superintendent John Stanford battled until it finally took his life.For the next month and a half Klingman underwent chemotherapy, which finally sent the cancer into remission in January 1997. Subsequent outpatient treatments he underwent did not keep the leukemia at bay. The remission lasted just five weeks.I think I took it harder when I got the phone call when the leukemia was back. I kind of felt things were turning around, Klingman said. It was kind of like God, what else can go wrong? How long do I have now?The only option was a bone marrow donation transplant, but a match had to be found first. His brother and sister were tested and found to be matches for each other, but not Klingman. His daughters were tested with the same results. No matches were found in the United States, so the search went worldwide.Finally, a match was found in Germany in March 1997.Doctors decided to attempt whats known as a peripheral-blood stem cell transplant, a procedure just beginning to become available for patients receiving cells from an unrelated donor. Just one other patient at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had received the treatment.Before the transplant, Klingman was hit with short-term, aggressive chemotherapy to knock the cancer back. His body underwent the radiation treatment three times a day for six days prior to the transplant.Its a brutal treatment, Klingman said.Klingman was off work this entire time and Rhonda was needed at home to take care of him and their daughters. His unions insurance policy had a $400,000 lifetime coverage limit. His medical bills surpassed $100,000 even before the transplant procedure. The transplant, a month of recovery in the hospital and medications increased that to about $300,000.In the midst of his costly battle, Klingmans union increased its personal coverage to one million dollars.That came in the nick of time, Klingman said. Thats how close we were to losing everything.Even though the transplant was successful and his medical bills were being covered, Klingman still had to be careful of infection and still had personal bills to worry about. A pump was strapped to his waist to supply medication intravenously into his system. Along with eradicating the cancer, post-transplant medications suppressed his new immune system to keep it from attacking his body. At the same time, he was susceptible to countless infections.In August 997, an infection left him near death. He woke up shaky and sweaty and couldnt talk. They gave me lots of medications, shooting in the dark, Klingman said as the doctors prepared Rhonda for the worse. They told my wife and my family to have everything in order a couple of times during the night. It got turned around. I dont know how.In his first attempt to come off his medication in April 1998, his immune system attacked his stomach. Other complications followed, forcing Klingman back onto the medications. He is again tapering off his medications. He went off Cyclosporin, a steroid, in May and has one month left with his final medication.We got the kids involved in vigorous hand washing. I couldnt go out in public, Klingman said. We got into the routine of being overly cautious.Klingman will play in todays golf tournament as his way of thanking many of those who have helped him. Through it all, he and his family havent missed how much it has taken to get them where they are today.Theres just a few things that turned out (right) for me and I had so much support, Klingman said. Theres just too many good things that came out of a horrible situation."