Community Blood Center was honored to welcome “Honored Hero” Eli Leingang from Pleasant Hill for a special visit Friday, Aug. 4. Eli is just seven years old but he has spent most of his young life fighting – and winning – his battle against leukemia. Part of his visit was to encourage support for the Oct. 5 Dayton Light The Night where he plans to lead the crowd on the annual Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising walk.
Eli is naturally shy so his dad Brian does all the talking about the journey of a blood cancer survivor. Brian is a faculty member at Edison State Community College in Piqua and was comfortable giving detailed information about Eli’s treatment to CBC’s Collection Services staff during a special training day gathering.
Eli was just 20 months old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September of 2011. The doctors gave them hope, but the road to recovery would be tough. “A lot of chemotherapy treatments are so toxic, when they inject it into your blood it will burn,” said Brian.
Eli faced chemo treatments for the next three and half years long, and his “cure rate” was estimated at 95 percent. It is six months longer for boys since the cancer can “hide out” in their reproductive organs.
Eli is the middle child of Brian and Noelle Leingang’s three children. His baby brother was born in 2013 and he had his final treatment in 2015. But he experienced a rare and disappointing relapse one month later.
They were relieved to learn he could continue chemo without the need for a bone marrow transplant. “The cure rate was 70 percent,” said Brian. “It’s a crazy situation because it puts your kid in that number. Remember, 95 percent was the original plan, and was in the five percent.”
After two years and “a lot of pokes and prods,” Eli completed treatment on Jan. 19, 2017. “In April he got his (chemo) port out,” said Brian. “He was just a baby when he got it in there.”
During his talk Brian showed photos of Eli with tubes and injections, his face bloated by steroids, periods of no appetite and exhaustion. Eli sat quietly, hardly noticing. “He won’t remember any of this,” said Brian, and the family is glad.
“Eli was a normal kid through all of this,” he said. “He played soccer, fought with siblings, got in trouble and went to school. We didn’t try to make it the central story of his life. We didn’t want him to feel the disease is defining him. I think we did a good job of trying have a normal life.”
Brian was pleased to know the CBC/CTS team is again giving full support to Light The Night. “Once you hear someone’s story, you want to help,” he said. “It’s wonderful you have a team going.”
The Leingang family is now a strong supporter of LLS. “Once you get involved and find out how many cancers there are, you see how difficult it is,” he said. “All the donations and your effort to fundraise do make a difference.”