By Jeanine Matlow
It’s been nearly a decade since Tom Kalas received a devastating diagnosis. At the time, he had a wife, three young children, and his own law practice, Kalas Kadian, PLC, specializing in business and real estate transactions and litigation.
Kalas, who was only 44 at the time, was told he had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and he would need a bone marrow transplant in order to survive beyond three months. While receiving his initial chemotherapy
treatment out-of-state, he became gravely ill with extremely high fevers and numerous complications and side effects.
During this incredibly difficult time, his wife, Nickie, began consulting by telephone with Dr. Voravit Ratanatharathorn, an oncologist and co-leader of the Bone Marrow Transplant team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. After six weeks of treating out-of-state, the couple agreed it was time to return home. So, on the morning of Christmas Eve, they met at length with the transplant and infectious disease teams at Karmanos.
Kalas’s fevers went down and he was able to receive daily outpatient treatment at Karmanos and be home with his family until January of 2008, when he had his lifesaving bone marrow transplant at Karmanos Cancer Center (clinical operation at Karmanos Cancer Institute). His sister was a marrow match and his donor.
Since the transplant, Kalas has been able to see his children graduate from high school and go to college. Kalas, a graduate of University of Detroit Mercy Law, is now back to work and paying it forward by volunteering as a member of the Karmanos Board of Directors.
“I am very honored to be a board member at the hospital that saved my life,” says Kalas. “I will forever be grateful and thankful that I was treated here by the amazing and wonderful staff, nurses and physicians.”
In addition, Kalas is on the Karmanos Patient Quality Care Committee, bringing his experience as a patient to help improve care. His hope is to bring hope to others who are being treated.
“When diagnosed with cancer and while being treated with the toxic chemo’s and medications, it is very easy to lose hope,” he says. “Karmanos knows how to treat cancer patients and save lives.”
Kalas credits his family with getting him through the toughest of times.
“I definitely would not be alive without them. My wife spent every day and night with me in the hospital while I was being treated in-state and out-of-state,” he says. “My three children and the beautiful life we had prior to being diagnosed gave me the determination and fortitude to try and get back to a normal life and existence.”
The experience made him more cognizant of the fact that the impact cancer has on a family can be devastating.
“You can really never prepare for it. You hear of people you know of being diagnosed with different types of cancer, but you never really appreciate the struggle – emotional, physical and financial – that comes after the diagnosis,” says Kalas.
In some ways, his profession would help him win his profound battle.
“The discipline and dedication required to be a good attorney was the same discipline and dedication it took, but on a larger scale, for me to get through my illness, treatment, and stem cell – bone marrow transplant,” he says.
Kalas considers Karmanos to be a phenomenal cancer center.
“The doctors who treated me were so smart, compassionate and comforting. The nurses and staff were amazing and so friendly,” he says.
“Sitting as a board member, I now am privy to the operations of the hospital and all the government regulations that come along with it. It just amazes me what Karmanos is able to do for its patients, who come from all socio-economic backgrounds, and still operate the business side of it. There are many very intelligent, caring and dedicated people that make Karmanos the special place that it truly is.”
The admiration goes both ways. Just ask Stephanie Mellon-Reppen, ACNP, AOCNP, oncology nurse practitioner at Karmanos, who says, “Tom is extraordinary. He went through a ton of life-threatening issues even before coming here for his transplant that were quite debilitating and he came through quite well despite everything.”
As for Kalas being a board member, “No one fits the bill more than Tom,” says Mellon-Reppen. “Even before he was on the board, he reached out to several families. It can be comforting when you’re qualified to talk about it, and they really need that support.”
She credits both Kalas and his wife with having amazing wisdom and strength and she is inspired by the fact that a patient has the energy to give back and reach out to others.
“He just pours himself into bettering Karmanos,” she says.
Dr. Voravit Ratanatharathorn says Kalas was critically ill when he arrived at Karmanos.
“People often come into transplant after encountering many problems and hardships, but the resilience he has – and so does his wife – is just as important as the medicine.”
His current efforts at Karmanos are greatly appreciated. As Dr. Ratanatharathorn explains, fund-raising can be a struggle at a unique institution that does clinical trials, research and stem cell transplants, but Kalas is determined to spread the word.
“Even with the challenges he has, he gives a lot and he involves his family and others, so everyone is involved in an effort to help with the program. He’s influenced a lot of people.”