I can’t imagine what it would be like to find out I had a life-threatening illness — and the treatment of that illness would force me to put my life on hold for a year or more.
On top of that, what if this treatment would require me to spend up to a month in a hospital more than three hours away for a transplant procedure, then live near that hospital for another two months?
That’s the scenario that Dr. Austin Ruiz, a Harker Heights resident and Killeen optometrist, has been living out for the last six months — with the next chapter — a bone marrow transplant — to begin next week.
Right up front, let me say that Dr. Ruiz has been my optometrist, and my wife’s, for several years. We also consider him and his wife, Kathy, our friends.
So it was especially difficult when we found out in January — along with the rest of his patients and friends — that Dr. Ruiz had been diagnosed with acute leukemia.
We knew he was in for a long road to recovery, but we didn’t know what that would entail.
Immediately after his diagnosis, Ruiz began receiving treatment at Scott & White Medical Center Temple. He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy in January before being released for outpatient care.
After further chemo rounds in February, March, April, and May, he had one last round in June, which was followed by a weeklong hospital stay to bring a fever under control.
Now, he’s preparing for a new round of chemo and a bone marrow transplant at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, scheduled for later this month.
In the face of all this, Austin and Kathy continue to express their confidence in the medical professionals, their gratitude to the community and their unbending faith.
Ruiz has turned his practice over to a few colleagues, most of whom are donating their services to keep the doors open. One doctor, a college friend of Austin’s, is driving all the way from Beaumont a few times a month to help out.
Kathy says she’s always running into her husband’s patients, who tell her they’re praying for him and can’t wait for him to return to work.
Unfortunately, that time may not come until after the first of the year.
With a marrow transplant comes a severely compromised immune system, and doctors cautioned Ruiz that he cannot have much close contact with people until after his immunity rebounds.
Despite all the challenges that have come with his illness, Ruiz has nothing but praise for the medical team that has taken him this far.
When he was first diagnosed, Ruiz said, 94 percent of his bone marrow was leukemic. At his latest test, that figure was only 0.05 percent.
The last step — a final round of chemo and transplantation of healthy marrow from a donor — should render him cancer-free.
After a month of treatment at MD Anderson, Ruiz will be living with one of his daughters in Houston. That arrangement likely wouldn’t have been possible if Scott & White’s president hadn’t stopped by Ruiz’s hospital room last month. Shortly after his visit, Ruiz’s treatment at MD Anderson was approved — after Ruiz’s oncologist told him he’d almost certainly have to have treatment in Dallas.
The Ruizes believe the president’s visit, and all the other fortunate developments during their journey, have been anything but coincidence.
As they see it, God’s hand is in these things. And after hearing their story, I don’t doubt it.
I know Austin and Kathy still have a long way to go before they can go back to their normal lives.
But count me and my wife among those who are anxious to welcome them back when they do.
Dave Miller is deputy managing editor for opinion of the Killeen Daily Herald and editor of the Harker Heights Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7543.