Giving voice for a cure

Brian (left) and Jeffrey Horne

Brian (left) and Jeffrey Horne shared everything—bikes as children, football in high school, and bone marrow as young men

After his second relapse of acute myelogenous leukemia, Jeffrey Horne would spend late nights in Emory University Hospital talking with his mother, Nancy.

One night he told her, “You know, Mom, God has a plan. It may be that I will get well, and I’ll be able to help others who have this disease. And it may be that I won’t get well, and then you can help them.”

Jeffrey died on January 30, 2008, when he was 20. Nancy Horne is trying to honor his wish. She has established Jeffrey’s Voice, a charity that seeks to find a cure for leukemia and other blood cancers. In less than a year, Jeffrey’s Voice has raised and donated $50,000 to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute to fund leukemia research.

“There are no known causes for this horrible disease and no way to prevent it,” says Horne. “That is why research is so important.”

Horne got her education in leukemia the hard way. She now knows that these blood cancers seem unrelated to heredity. Circulating throughout the blood stream, they can strike anywhere, and even with aggressive courses of chemotherapy and radiation, they can hide out anywhere in the body. The chemotherapy used to treat them is administered frequently and aggressively in an attempt to destroy the immune system and rid the body of the cancer.
Jeffrey’s leukemia appeared out of the blue in February 2007 when he was a junior at Georgia Southern University.  With a suspicion of leukemia, his local doctors sent him home to Atlanta for more thorough testing at Emory. He got the diagnosis on Tuesday, March 5. It was his birthday.

Brian, Jeffrey’s younger brother, also came home from college to be nearby. And Brian’s bone marrow turned out to be a perfect match for Jeffrey, but there was a complication: Brian had a heart arrhythmia that was discovered while playing high school football. Doctors were concerned that the growth factor drug he would need to stimulate extra stem cells might overburden his heart. But Brian was determined to help save his brother’s life. Eventually, he got a chance to do so.

Initially, the transplant seemed to work, and he went into remission. He stayed away from crowds to avoid exposure to illness, but he was able to register for online classes at Georgia Perimeter College. He was trying to get back to normal, or as his mom says, the “new normal.”

Several months passed before the small red bumps that looked like mosquito bites appeared on Jeffrey’s legs. “We knew then that there was a problem,” Horne says. “The leukemia had been hiding out in his skin.”

His Emory team started another round of treatment. He participated in two clinical trials, writing in his journal, “This next treatment is another experimental one and probably of no use to me, but I don’t mind being a lab rat if it will help other leukemia patients.”

Again Brian stepped up to volunteer as a donor for a lymphocytic transplant, but Jeffrey became too ill just before Christmas 2008 to undergo the procedure. Then four months later, Brian also died. The cause, says Horne, was a broken heart.

These three years later, the example set by Horne’s sons give her the strength to keep going. Supported by her husband of 40 years, Claude, and her remaining son Allyn, she is giving voice to Jeffrey’s and Brian’s desires to find a cure for leukemia. Donors such as UPS—for which both boys worked during two Christmas seasons—have enabled Jeffrey’s Voice to make headway against leukemia.

Horne is committed to working with Winship to keep that momentum going. “I am so pleased now to be able to work with Emory on finding a cure.” —Rhonda Mullen

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