Looking back at photos from Brenton Schiffer’s 3rd birthday party, Lynn Bickley said she wonders how she and her husband, Randy Schiffer, could have missed that their son was already sick. They, along with many of the party guests, were physicians at the University of Rochester Medical Center at the time.
“He was so pale,” Lynn said.
David Korones, M.D., who was Brenton’s oncologist two decades ago when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), was quick to reassure Lynn on a recent visit. It would have been almost impossible for them to see the subtle changes in Brenton from day-to-day, Korones told her.
It is that quiet compassion and expert care that the family remembers and wants to honor with their recent gift of $300,000 aimed at enhancing research in hematopoietic diseases, including ALL. The gift is part of Golisano Children’s Hospital’s $100 million campaign that launched publicly in October 2011. In addition to raising funds to build a new 245,000-square-foot children’s hospital, the campaign will enhance seven priority programs, one of which is childhood cancer.
Lynn, Randy and their son Lt. Sgt. Brenton B. Schiffer of the United States Navy returned to URMC recently to reminisce and make their gift.
“It’s very moving to be back here,” said Brenton, 25, who had traveled from San Diego where his ship, the USS Hampton, is stationed. “[Being a cancer survivor] isn’t something I think about often, but it was a big part of my childhood.”
The family’s connection to the Medical Center was deep before Brenton was diagnosed. Lynn first came to Rochester to study at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and Randy was an intern. They met, fell in love, married and had Brenton. By the time the family left in 1998, Randy was a professor of Neurology and Psychiatry and Lynn had graduated from medical school and progressed to an associate professor of Medicine.
But also by that time, Brenton had been diagnosed with cancer and had completed his treatments. The bonds between them and the children’s hospital’s providers were as deep as family, and it went both ways. In fact, Brenton’s oncologist, Korones, couldn’t pass up the chance to see him and his parents again, and one of Brenton’s nurses, Rose Holloway, and her husband, acting Chair of Neurology Robert Holloway, in addition to Pediatrics Chair Emerita Elizabeth McAnarney also came to see the trio.
Chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Craig Mullen told the family that their incredible gift would go toward ALL research and invited the family to come back to talk to the researchers using the gift and see the progress.
“We’re very grateful for your gift,” Mullen said.
Lynn recalled a very bad night with Brenton during inpatient treatment when it seemed as though an antibiotic treatment wasn’t working. It was a Saturday when Korones was not in the hospital, but he came in, changed Brenton’s antibiotics and made sure he was comfortable. Lynn remembers it as a turning point in a very difficult course of treatment.
“We’re just so grateful for all the care we had here.”