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    Pupils rally to help boy battle cancer

    Eight-year-old Jordan Holzmacher's world changed last month when he learned he had cancer. His classmates do all they can to help.

    By TERRI D. REEVES

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- Except for an occasional allergy attack, Jordan Holzmacher has always been a healthy, active boy, playing soccer twice a week and working toward a black belt in tae kwon do. In August, he frolicked in the Pacific Ocean when his family visited Hawaii; in September, he spent four days trekking through Disney's theme parks in Orlando.

    That's why it was such a shock for his family to learn early last month that the 8-year-old had leukemia and lymphoma.

    "We had no indication that anything was wrong," said his mother, Fadia Holzmacher. "One moment I have two normal, healthy kids and the next thing I know my son has cancer. I mean, wow! It can happen to anybody."

    Today, a blood drive and bone marrow screening will be held on Jordan's behalf at Highland Lakes Elementary, where he attends school.

    Jordan, who has been mostly homebound since his illness, visited classmates Wednesday for a few hours. His immune system is so weak that he had to stand outside with his friends to avoid exposure to viruses.

    Unfortunately, he developed a fever and had to return to the hospital Wednesday afternoon to receive intravenous antibiotic treatments. His mother said he won't be allowed to go back to school until April, after the flu and chicken pox seasons are finished, and then only on a limited basis.

    Jordan's first symptoms appeared during a soccer match when he began to have chest pains. Over the next couple of days, his chest and neck began to swell until his neck was the size of his head. He gained more than 8 pounds in a few days.

    It was Dr. Cameron Tebbi, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Tampa Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's, who delivered the crushing news that Jordan had cancer.

    "I was totally hysterical," his mother said. "He almost died. But they were very confident they were going to help him. His prognosis is good. They say the cure rate is between 65 to 85 percent. He is in complete remission, but he will need two more years of chemotherapy to make sure he stays cancer-free."

    While the medical staff is doing everything it can to treat Jordan's physical condition, his classmates are providing the best emotional support possible.

    "Once a week, they send a video full of jokes, songs, positive messages, and school gossip," said Mrs. Holzmacher, who was a substitute teacher at the school until her son became ill. "And every single class sent banners and cards. He must have received about 400 so far."

    Jordan's third-grade teacher, Joyce Ostrom, said everyone loves Jordan.

    "He has such a happy heart," she said. "He's very well-accepted, a solid little student, and very athletic. All the students want to help him and see him get well."

    Mrs. Holzmacher said Jordan has also received many toys and the family has received food certificates. A friend gave Jordan a football signed by about 80 percent of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team. The Palm Harbor Junior Women's Club is sponsoring the bone marrow screening. The test, which normally costs $50, is free during this drive. Persons who donate blood have the option of having the blood tested for the marrow donor program.

    "You can do both programs with one stick of the needle," said Katrina Holley, recruiter for the Florida Blood Services Marrow Donor program.

    Holley said that in the Tampa Bay area, there are 30 to 45 patients with life-threatening illnesses searching for a bone marrow match on any given day.

    Whether Jordan will need a bone marrow transplant is uncertain, but should he need it in the future, it will be helpful to have a donor in the registry, Holley said.

    Mrs. Holzmacher remains hopeful that her son will be cured.

    "We have lots of support, good doctors, and lots of faith," she said.

    Care to donate?

    A blood drive and bone marrow screening to benefit Jordan Holzmacher will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today in the physical education field near the rear of Highland Lakes Elementary School, 3636 Ridge Blvd., Palm Harbor.

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