This is the story of one mother’s fight to find a cure for leukemia after one of her sons was diagnosed and later died from the disease, and her other son died from a broken heart after his brother, and best friend, passed away.
Jeffrey was diagnosed with acute mylogenous leukemia. The onset of acute leukemias is sudden, and the disease progresses rapidly without immediate treatment. Symptoms generally include fatigue, fever and flu-like symptoms. The disease progresses much more slowly with chronic leukemias, and treatment varies. In some cases, with a chronic leukemia, the patient may not need the aggressive chemotherapy and radiation required in acute leukemias. There are no known, certain causes for leukemia. There are a few risk factors, but most who are stricken by the disease are not at risk from these factors. The disease is not thought to be hereditary. It strikes suddenly and indiscriminately without regard to age or ethnicity. Learn more about leukemia and blood cancers.
There was no warning when Jeffrey was diagnosed. I received a call from him early on a Wednesday morning in late February. He was at the infirmary at Georgia Southern University. His hemoglobin count was low, and they wanted to send him by ambulance to the local hospital’s ER. They suspected flu but were concerned about the low hemoglobin. His dad immediately drove down and met him at the hospital. After IV fluids and antibiotics, Jeffrey was feeling much better, well enough to go home. Doctors told him to get some rest, drink plenty of fluids and made him an appointment with a local doctor for the upcoming Friday morning.
By Thursday night, his fever had spiked again, and he was very ill. The next morning, the doctor sent him back to the hospital where he was admitted. An oncologist did blood tests and suspected leukemia, but didn’t have the equipment there to do tests and get the results. On Sunday, we took him by ambulance to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta (our home at the time), and he was diagnosed the following Tuesday, his 20th birthday.
Watching Jeffrey waste away from this wretched disease was horrific for all of us, but we all rallied around him, and each other, and became closer as a family. Losing Jeffrey broke all of our hearts, but especially his little brother, Brian’s. When we lost Brian, just a few short weeks later, well, the anguish and pain is just indescribable, and continues to be. And so, we will never be the same.
If there is anybody out there fighting leukemia, a disability or other disease, let me encourage you to stay strong and never, never, never give up. Our boys didn’t and neither will I, not until there is a cure or until I draw my last breath.
About Jeffrey and Brian Horne
Jeffrey was born on March 5, 1987, a beautiful, red-headed baby with huge blue eyes. His younger brother, Brian, followed him into the world on September 18, 1988. Brian was just as beautiful, with thick, dark brown hair and gorgeous brown eyes. From the time they were walking, they did everything together. They were constant, lifelong companions and very best friends, went to the same schools, had the same friends, and joined the same college fraternity.
Both Jeffrey and Brian played Varsity football in high school, and Jeffrey also ran cross-country. Both were devoted sports enthusiasts, but football, baseball and NASCAR were their real passions. They both loved fishing, boating and hunting outings with friends and family.
On March 5, 2007, his 20th birthday, Jeffrey was diagnosed with Acute Mylogenous Leukemia and returned home to be treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. His brother, Brian, stayed home to be with Jeffrey, and when it became apparent that the only possibility for a cure for Jeffrey was a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, Brian immediately stepped forward. Brian had a heart arrhythmia, something we learned during his high school football days, and, consequently, was questionable as Jeffrey’s donor. But, he was an eight-point match and determined to save his brother.
Brian suffered terribly from the massive doses of growth-factor drugs given to him before the cell donation and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance the day before making the donation, with breathing difficulties and seizures. Nonetheless, he remained determined and donated the cells later that evening. The transplant was initially successful, but both boys were devastated when Jeffrey’s leukemia returned just five months later. Even though preparing for the donation was difficult on Brian, he was more than willing to make other donations to Jeffrey as necessary.
Despite the horror of his illness, Jeffrey never lost his sense of humor, graciousness, determination, spirit or faith; he never gave up. During the course of his illness, Jeffrey participated in several experimental treatments. He wrote in his journal, “This next treatment is another experimental one and probably of no use to me, but I don’t mind being a ‘lab rat’ if it will help other leukemia patients.” Because of his courage, his voice spoke to many. He told his mother late one night before his final hospital stay, “Mom, there is a plan for this. It may be that I will get well and can help others with leukemia, or it may be that I won’t. Then, YOU can.”
Jeffrey’s struggle with leukemia ended on January 30, 2008, after a near yearlong heroic battle. Shortly after we lost Jeffrey, Brian announced that he had joined the National Bone Marrow Donor program. He told his mother, “Mom, if I can give another person even five more months, then I want to do that, and I know Jeffrey would want me to do that.” He did not have the time. Brian died of a broken heart less than five months after losing his beloved brother. Brian was 19.
About Nancy Horne
Nancy, mother of Jeffrey and Brian, worked in the nonprofit sector for more than three decades, and served as president of the Georgia and South Carolina Cable Television Association and executive director of the South Carolina Cable Television Foundation. After learning Jeffrey was diagnosed with leukemia, and in recognition of the struggle her family faced, Nancy left her successful career to devote her full attention to caring for him. After the loss of Jeffrey and Brian, Nancy founded Jeffrey’s Voice, a 501c3 public charity with a single mission – funding research initiatives that will lead to a cure for leukemia and blood cancers.
Nancy is married to Claude Horne, and in addition to Jeffrey and Brian, they have an older son, Allyn, who lives in San Francisco. Nancy and Claude live in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, where Nancy devotes all of her energy to fulfilling the mission of Jeffrey’s Voice.
About Jeffrey’s Voice
Jeffrey’s Voice was founded by Nancy Horne, mother of Jeffrey and Brian. With the same passion as her boys, leukemia is her enemy, and she will not stop fighting it until there is a cure. Knowing that the best way to help those suffering from these wretched diseases is to find a cure, Jeffrey’s Voice, a 501c3 public charity, has only one mission – to fund research initiatives that will lead to a cure. All donations made to Jeffrey’s Voice are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. In just a year, it has encouraged the community to raise enough money to create the Jeffrey’s Voice Leukemia Research Fund at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. To learn more about the mission of Jeffrey’s Voice and to help find a cure, visit http://jeffreysvoice.org.
Jeffrey’s Voice Youtube channel
Nancy Horne’s blog