Reflections on Dr. Ragab by Lauren Gearon
What would the pediatric oncology and hematology world be without Dr. Abdel Ragab?
What if Dr. Ragab wasn’t there to treat me in the summer of 1981?
What if he wasn’t persistent, thorough, thoughtful, and forward thinking?
What if he didn’t fight for my life like I was one of his own children?
What if he didn’t fight for ALL children he treated, like they were ALL his own?
Where would so many of us be?
Dr. Ragab treated me in the summer of 1981 for a rare and deadly hematologic disease called Aplastic Anemia. I arrived at the Egleston clinic run by Dr. Ragab as a very sick 12-year-old. My bone marrow had virtually shut down, producing very few of the blood cells necessary to keep me alive. As Dr. Ragab sat in the trailer that he called his office and lab, he delivered the news to my parents that my diagnosis was bad and almost always fatal, with only a 10% cure rate. He was fully aware of how hard and important the summer months would be for me and my family and how unlikely a cure would be. Yet he fought for my life, presented my parents with treatment options, and gave them hope.
1981 was decades before the internet arrived, so Dr. Ragab was my family’s most valued informational resource. We couldn’t Google, “Aplastic Anemia,” and come up with dozens of websites listing information about the disease or read about another family’s experiences with treatment and best practices. Dr. Ragab was our Google and he was a tremendous search engine to have on my team. He was well educated, expertly trained, and brilliant. He was connected to the pediatric cancer community on a national and international level. He was thoughtful, empathetic, reassuring, and always hopeful. I sometimes wonder where would we have been if he weren’t all of these things. What if he had been a small-minded doctor who only thought locally and not globally about where a cure might be? What if he weren’t proactive, always trying to stay one step ahead of the disease?
When the limited treatment options were quickly exhausted for us at Egleston, he led my parents to an experimental treatment at UCLA. Although few children were enrolled in the protocol, Dr. Ragab testified that I had run out of local options and advocated to the doctors in charge that I be permitted into this early phase trial. It was this treatment that eventually saved my life. Dr. Ragab was responsible for introducing us to it as a life-giving option and shepherding us through the process until we returned to Atlanta.
When I returned home after a month of grueling treatment, we rode the roller-coaster to recovery with the sage guidance of Dr. Ragab and his team. The ups and downs of daily blood counts that must have sent my parents into moments of doubt and despair were coupled with my demands to be allowed to return to school. Dr. Ragab treated me medically, but he also helped my parents decide how to help me live within the confines of my disease restrictions.
Dr. Ragab cared about my medical well-being as much as the emotional well being of my entire family. It was his big-hearted concern for all families connected with his clinic that endeared him to us, and his passion for CURE Childhood Cancer that led my parents to serve on its board for many years after my recovery – raising money for lab space, lab equipment, vital research, and support of other families in their darkest days. He became much more than just a doctor to our family; he became a leader, an advocate, and a friend. I wouldn’t be here today watching my children grow and flourish if it weren’t for him.
In three short years, the Believe Ball has raised more than $2.7 million to further CURE Childhood Cancer’s mission to find cures for cancers which affect children and to provide critical support to patients and their families. Every year, we honor someone who has made a significant impact on our mission and the children we serve. This year, we are proud to honor CURE’s founder, Dr. Abdel Ragab, for his lifelong dedication to finding a cure for childhood cancer.
In 1975 when Dr. Ragab arrived in Atlanta, he immediately realized an urgent need for a special microscope to distinguish between types of leukemia in order to put patients on the correct protocol. He organized a group of his patients’ parents to begin raising money and CURE was formed. What started as a research lab in a temporary trailer has grown into a top ten pediatric cancer research center. Dr. Ragab’s dedication and vision for children battling cancer was the very foundation upon which this great institution has been built.
Please consider being a part of a special tribute to Dr. Ragab by making a donation in his honor. We will surprise Dr. Ragab with the tribute gift total on May 13, 2017 at the 4th annual Believe Ball.