The hopes and prayers of the local community, this Thursday, March 28, will be with 3-year-old Jeffrey Virostek of Chantilly's Poplar Tree Estates community. That's when he's receiving a bone-marrow transplant from his sister Meghan, 5.
"He has acute myelogenous leukemia [AML], and his prognosis, with chemotherapy, is a 50-percent chance of remission," said his mother, Tasha Virostek, 34. "With a bone-marrow transplant, it's 75 percent." Both she and her husband, Stephen, 34, plus daughter Angela, 7, were tested, but Meghan was the best match.
Tasha is a former Fairfax County special-education teacher, now a full-time mom, and Stephen works with investors in Nextel Communications. Their daughters attend Poplar Tree Elementary. All was well in their family until October, when they noticed an excessive amount of bruises on Jeffrey.
"He'd get terrible bruises from falls and from bumping into things, and they didn't heal," said his mother. "And he developed little, red dots under his skin, everywhere."
Jeffrey's pediatrician referred the family to a pediatric oncologist and, on Halloween, he was diagnosed with AML. "I was shocked — I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest," said Tasha Virostek. With no family history of the disease, it took them completely by surprise.
Normally, Jeffrey is a lively and energetic, little boy who loves to play with his trains and Bob the Builder and Clifford the Big Red Dog toys. He and his sisters play together outside and enjoy riding bikes, swinging on swings in their backyard and kicking a soccer ball around. His brown hair was lost to the chemotherapy, but his blue eyes and captivating smile still melt hearts.
And although his leukemia symptoms aren't as bad as some cases, he's had to be hospitalized extensively, from Nov. 28-Jan. 3, Jan. 18-Feb. 17 and again on March 18 for chemotherapy conditioning before his transplant. "He's had high doses of chemo, causing nausea and fatigue, but he's a trooper and he's been in really good spirits," said his mom. "He brings sunshine everywhere he goes."
She's told Meghan that she's going to help her brother feel better. "She understands they'll put her to sleep and take bone marrow from her hip," said Virostek. "I'm relieved and hopeful that we'll actually have a chance for a longtime survivorship."
Because Jeffrey is being treated at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., she stays there with him weekdays, with Stephen taking his turn on weekends. But she said family and the community have really rallied 'round them, bringing over meals four nights a week, plus babysitting and arranging play dates and sleepovers for the girls.
"It's been fabulous — the kindness has just been magnificent," said Virostek. "One weekend, a gentleman in the neighborhood mulched our yard, painted our front door and put up our Christmas lights." Brownie troops, a neighborhood Bunco group and Meghan's and Angela's school classes have provided small bags of treats for Jeffrey to open each day at the hospital.
Meghan's kindergarten class and the Bunco group also gave the family gasoline cards to help with their commuting expenses and, at Christmas, the Poplar Tree teachers sent a huge basket of coffees, teas, cookies, crackers and gift certificates to local restaurants and video stores. They also sent lots of books, small toys and craft items for all three children and, March 4, Angela's second-grade class took a walking field-trip to their house and sang three songs for Jeffrey.
So, as the family's way of giving back, they've arranged for a bone-marrow drive, next week, at Poplar Tree Elementary. It will be Friday, April 5, from 5-8 p.m., in the cafeteria. It's funded by donations to the Fair Lakes 8K Race/2K Fun Run held each September and is sponsored by the American Red Cross. And Amphora Restaurant will provide refreshments.
Normally, it costs $170-$250 to register, but this event is free to all registrants. The screening application may be downloaded in advance, filled out and brought to the bone-marrow registration, that day, to expedite things. It may be found at www.marrow.info.
"Jeffrey's parents and sisters wish to thank all the families who have shown their support and love with homecooked meals, childcare for Meghan and Angela and heartfelt wishes for Jeffrey's recovery," said Jeffrey's maternal grandmother, Janet Ball. "But they [also] want to urge people to register as bone-marrow donors," she said.
"We wanted to get more people on the registry who aren't as fortunate to have a related bone-marrow match," added Virostek. Said Jeffrey's grandmother: "It's a very simple procedure for the chance to save someone's life — someone like Jeffrey."
Naturally, said Virostek, her son's illness is trying. "As a parent, you always want to take on the pain and suffering yourself," she said. "But because he's a strong and vivacious youngster and we have so much support, we remain optimistic and uplifted. And we're very grateful for the support."
<lst>Participate in the bone-marrow registry, next Friday, April 5, from 5-8 p.m., in the Poplar Tree Elementary cafeteria. The data goes to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). For more information, log on to www.marrow.info orwww.marrow.org. The NMDP may be reached at 1-800-MARROW-2.