A word for those risking their lives amid the coronavirus crisis: Thanks – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

`It wasnt long after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that cops, firefighters, first responders and volunteers from across the country and the world were lauded as heroes and temporarily replaced celebrities as the guest stars on talk shows.

The acknowledgment lasted for a while before actors hawking movies and pundits plugging books became the norm again.

As for the most affected first responders those who risked their health and spent weeks sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center for remains and evidence too many succumbed to cancer and respiratory illnesses that took their lives or permanently scarred them physically and emotionally.

Hopefully, the workers now on the front line of the coronavirus crisis will receive a far more enduring tribute and recognition. Quite a number of them have been infected and some have died while trying to treat patients in their care. They range from the Chinese physician who sounded the first warning of this novel virus to doctors and nurses and others here who have come down with the deadly infection. Add the Italian pastor who died after willingly giving up his ventilator for a younger COVID-19 patient.

I know of this front-line work first hand.

Nine years ago this week on April Fools Day I got the news that I had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. More than 32,000 American adults are diagnosed annually with the incurable disease; more than 12,000 die of complications from it. I was informed I had the worst stage of it. Close to 80 percent of my plasma cells were cancerous. Tests also discovered fractured vertebrae and weakened bones byproducts of the cancer. The average survival rate for Stage III folks like me is 29 months, though treatment protocols have improved over the years.

I went through a year of chemo and a ruptured appendix during aggressive treatment that left me with an ugly but necessary vertical scar that wiped out my belly button. Throw in two autologous stem cell transplants as well as several bouts of pneumonia and other weird respiratory emergencies throughout the years.

Nine years later Im still above ground. I can still work, hoop and salsa, and I checked off some wishes Iike swimming with dolphins and experiencing the worlds second longest zipline. My only treatment since late 2012 is ingesting a daily Revlimid pill that doctors believe is keeping my cancer at below microscopic levels. My gut tells me it might also be the occasional Reeses Pieces, though I place my trust in the medical and scientific communitys assessment.

But Im blessed, thanks to my caretaker wife, the support from my family and friends, and the incredible knowledge and care I was given by those front-line health care workers who were with me step by step. Many are now dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak as well as the normal workload.

They include Dr. Mark Wilkowske, chief of oncology at the Frauenshuh Cancer Center in St. Louis Park, and Drs. Daniel Weisdorf, Philip McGlave and the team at the University of Minnesota Bone Marrow Transplant Program.

But I also am in debt to the long line of physicians, nurses and support staff who have helped me and many others recover from serious illnesses and other medical challenges throughout the years. We now see them profiled on TV sacrificing their own health, rightly pointing out the lack of official preparedness, and working double shifts while juggling family and emotional needs.

I have nothing against well-deserving celebrities. Whether they are musicians, actors or athletes, many have also stepped to the plate to entertain from home, donate to relief efforts or share words of support and solace through social media and other venues. But so have ordinary folks from all corners of the nation.

Maybe, when we do get back to normal, if we ever do, lets not forget what these health care folks and support staff are doing now, day in and day out. I know I wont.

Lets make that gratitude and star treatment last longer than it did 19 years ago.

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A word for those risking their lives amid the coronavirus crisis: Thanks - TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

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