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Sam wants to put 'Day Zero' behind him

Sam Meidinger’s biggest concern right now is that he is going to be missing the 2016-17 basketball season.

11/15/16 (Tue)


Preparing for four months away from home and school . . . Sam Meidinger, center, a sophomore at Kenmare High School, will soon be leaving for a Minneapolis hospital where he will have a bone marrow transplant. His parents, Joddy and Tami, are standing on either side of him.

By Marvin Baker

Sam Meidinger’s biggest concern right now is that he is going to be missing the 2016-17 basketball season.

Meidinger, a 6-4 sophomore who plays for the Kenmare Honkers, will be away from home for up to four months to receive a bone marrow transplant and recovery.

He was diagnosed with Aplastic anemia when he was 7 years old, but it’s been in remission until this past August. Meidinger is 15 now.

“I just want to get it over with and do what the doctors tell me,” he said. “But I’m missing basketball.”

According to his mother Tami, nine donors with perfect matches have been found. They have been narrowed down to six and those six will go through a series of tests to determine who is the best match.

So the timing of Sam’s transplant is going to depend on the donors, Tami explained.

“They’ll go through those labs, and it’s totally on their schedule,” Tami said. “But these are life-saving donations.”

After the Meidingers get the call, they will leave for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

“There will be a week for work ups and a week for chemotherapy and radiation,” Tami said. “The transplant is called Day Zero plus 100 days for recovery. We’ll be gone about three or four months.”

They were able to make light of the fact that a children’s hospital doesn’t normally have beds that can accommodate someone as tall as Sam.

“I told them, they’re going to need to get a new bed for him,” Tami said.  “His feet were sticking over the edge.”

According to Sam’s father Joddy, the first six weeks after the transplant, Sam will be in isolation, with the rest of the time spent in the nearby Ronald McDonald house in recovery.

So yes, Sam will miss basketball, but he will also be out of his normal school environment.

However, Tami said he will be enrolled in a Minnesota school district and that district will have a teacher who caters to just such situations.

In addition, Joddy said Sam is already talking about getting a weight set so he can begin getting his strength back as soon as possible.

Sam said most of his classmates know about his situation and are very supportive.

The teachers and his coaches are as well, according to Tami.

“The school is going to do everything it can to get him to watch the games,” Tami said.

Joddy added, “They’re bending over backward to make it work and keep it up. The teachers know what he’s capable of doing and they’re willing to work with him.”

Sam takes it all in stride and looks at the next few months with a calm demeanor. He’s ready, because in his opinion, he just wants to get back to being a normal teenager and hanging out with his friends.

Sam’s parents first realized there was something wrong eight years ago.

“He was 7 when we first took him in,” Tami said. “He woke up with a big, ugly bruise. They took tests, and then it was on to Mayo Clinic.”

She said Mayo Clinic wanted to do a transplant about five years ago, but his condition wasn’t bad enough, so the doctors decided to wait. So she is hoping the five-year interim was enough to change medicine for the better.

“I just hope that five years got us a lot of research and time,” Tami said.

Tami said Sam’s platelets were a little on the low side, but since August they have tanked, along with his hemoglobin and red blood cells, leading to the need for the transplant.

“It has always been a concern, though, especially because there is a danger of spontaneous bleeding,” Tami said. “And as a mother, I could see he didn’t have any energy.”

Sam admitted it, saying he gets really tired very easily.

“Just going up a flight of stairs makes him tired,” Tami said. “But I don’t think he understands the potential he has.”

According to Joddy, after they had been to Mayo Clinic, their insurance company actually did them a favor by suggesting a second opinion.

He said there were a handful of pediatric BMT beds in Rochester but 24 at the University of Minnesota.

In addition he said Dr. Tolar is now Sam’s transplant doctor. Tolar is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Masonic and internationally known for his stem cell reasearch and transplants. Just this last July, Dr. Tolar spoke at TedxFargo about his ground breakling treatments using stem cells.

Sam doesn’t necessarily understand that, but his parents do and it gives them both some peace of mind knowing their son will be in good hands during the transplant.

But Sam is a little skeptical, mostly because of the procedure itself and the needle sticks, even though Tami said they’ve been reassured the transplant is anticlimactic and Sam is getting used to being a human pin cushion.

“When there’s holes on top of holes, it bothers a little,” Sam said.

Joddy says there’s a long way to go, but they can now see light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve been through a lot of different scenarios and treatments and ironically, this could be the best news Sam has heard in a long time.

“We’ve even tried some treatments not OK’d by the FDA and the insurance company was willing to back us,” Joddy said. “I was impressed with that.”

According to Tami, the best thing that can happen from all this is that in a year Sam can be completely cured.

She added giving blood or being checked to be a bone marrow donor is the best thing readers can take away from Sam’s story.

She said there is a website called (bethematch.org) that has more information about becoming a donor.

“All it takes to be on the registry is a cheek swab, then you are listed on the database”, Tami said. “When you donate, it’s similar to a blood draw, or they might choose to do a biopsy. But, despite there being millions  on the donor registry, there are still many people who cannot find a match.”

“And to think you’re saving a life,” Joddy said. “It’s amazing.”

Shedding a little more humor on the subject, Joddy and Tami said Sam got a Make A Wish dog when he was 7. He wanted a female bull dog to be bred so his brothers could get their own dog.

“They said because of his health and strength, he’ll do very well,” Joddy said. “He has grit and determination you don’t often see.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!