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Family’s care a vital treatment

Clark (Courtesy Clark / The Spokesman-Review)
Clark (Courtesy Clark / The Spokesman-Review)

Siblings, father provide support while Tyler man battles leukemia

When someone faces hard times, it is good to have family who will rally around you.

That’s the case for Peter Clark, a 32-year-old journeyman diesel technician and field mechanic at Detroit Diesel. Clark was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a fast-growing cancer in his bone marrow, in spring 2008.

His sister Susan Thomas donated her bone marrow for a transplant. Younger brother Aaron has been sneaking off to Clark’s house in Tyler to mow his lawn and tend his landscaping. Lee Rupp, his older sister, has been getting the word out about Clark and what he’s been through. And his older brother Rod has twice donated bone marrow and has helped pay Clark’s living expenses while he and his family are in Seattle for treatment.

“My problems are their problems,” Clark said. “There is no way we could have done what we’re doing without the help of our family, church and neighbors.”

When Clark was first diagnosed, he and his wife of 13 years, Clarissa, and their sons, Alex, 8, and Matthew, 7, moved to Seattle for his treatment. They traded their spacious home in Tyler for an apartment near the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in July 2008. The children, who can’t bring home germs that may compromise Clark, go to the Hutch School, a special school for families facing disease.

“It’s been really hard for them,” said Ken Clark, Peter’s father.

The elder Clark, a retired Cheney High School teacher, speaks with pride about his son, saying he was born with a smile on his face.

“His family, friends, co-workers and neighbors know him as the guy with the big grin and willingness to help anyone in need,” Ken Clark said.

He also talks about how strong his son has been through many painful procedures. One procedure required a large needle inserted into the spine, and Clark’s doctor wanted to give him anesthesia for the procedure. He refused, preferring to bite down on a pillow and hold his father’s hand instead.

“He’s amazing,” Ken Clark said.

Throughout Peter Clark’s ordeal, he’s received three bone marrow transplants. His sister Susan was a perfect match and was the first to donate. But the match was a little too perfect.

“Her cells were getting along too well with mine,” Clark said.

The leukemia had come back, and he would need another transplant.

The next-closest match was his brother Rod, who lives in Portland.

Rod traveled to Seattle to make the donation. But Clark’s body rejected the transplant. Rod needed to make another donation.

After the third transplant, Clark said, he began climbing stairs and is now walking a quarter of a mile at a time.

“Physically, things are getting a lot better,” he said.

He hopes to bring his family home to Tyler in September, as long as the leukemia stays at bay.

But he said there will have to be a lot of work done on his house to make it livable for him – especially with regard to water and air quality.

The whole experience has been expensive. Clarissa Clark has gone without medical insurance for a year and a half. Rod Clark has been paying the family’s rent in Seattle. Medical bills are piling up. Clark said he will still have a job at Detroit Diesel in Spokane when he is ready to work, and he has qualified for Medicaid.

“There is only so much support from insurance companies, state assistance and aid from family, friends and co-workers,” Ken Clark said.

“He is being told that assistance of all kinds is drying up. Peter would never ask for anything. As his father, I must ask for financial support for my boy.”

The Clarks have set up an account for donations at Cheney Federal Credit Union. The family’s church, Spangle Community Church, will take a special collection for the family.

Ken Clark said he has been overwhelmed with support and love from friends of the family in the past year and a half.

“He’s so loved, and it shows.”