In all reality, Jerome Riehl should feel tired most days. His job on Parris Island training recruits is extremely physical, and he is the father of six young children. But, late in 2012, he noticed he was bruising easily and exhausted following his normal runs.
It was after a trip to the dentist, though, when he learned something was terribly wrong. “My dental hygienist said my gums were very swollen. At first they thought it was just gingivitis, but they were concerned so they sent me to a doctor to have it checked. When the results from my complete blood count came back we were shocked, my platelet levels were at 4,000 while a normal count would be 150,000 to 450,000,” recalls Jerome.
“My doctor immediately got in touch with Dr. George Geils Jr. and Roper St. Francis Cancer Care’s Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program. On that call Dr. Geils told them to not stick me again for fear I may bleed to death,” he continues.
On January 25, 2013, Jerome was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He would need a bone marrow transplant. Luckily his younger brother Armand was a perfect match.
“I remember coming into the BMT Unit at Roper on a gurney. There was this nurse, Pamela, who met me at the door, she looked at me and said ‘Hello, I’m Pamela.’ I just lay there quiet and then she leaned down and took my hand and said ‘Jerome, it’s ok; it’s ok to be scared but we are going to take care of you.’ That made such an impression on me that she understood how I felt and that she really cared,” he says.
Shortly after his first round of chemotherapy Jerome developed a deadly intestinal infection. He was unconscious for two weeks as his body battled for survival. During that time his family, friends and Marine Corps family prayed. Dr. Geils called upon Jerome’s older brother Christopher to donate white blood cells to help him fight off the infection.
Jerome credits his survival to that prayer and the expertise of his physician Dr. Geils. “Dr. Geils is one the most intelligent and compassionate doctors I have ever met. My wife told me that while I was unconscious Dr. Geils would sit by my bed offering encouragement to me and my family for hours,” says Jerome.
Today, Jerome is in remission and back to the family and job he loves. “This is a story of faith and of people helping each other; God works through us all in ways only He can understand and I am forever changed and grateful for this experience,” he says.