Med Student Learns With Team That Treated Him - Diverse Health

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Med Student Learns With Team That Treated Him

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by Jennifer Meckles, Associated Press

ST. LOUIS —Luke Weaver knew from a very young age he wanted to be a doctor.

He just didn’t realize how much experience he would have with hospitals before ever reaching medical school.

When the Belleville native was 15 years old, he started feeling very sick. Initially, doctors thought he had a sinus infection or mononucleosis. His pediatrician referred him to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.

That’s where Weaver learned the situation was much more serious.

“The ER doctor came in and basically delivered the news, that it was not mono. It was instead, leukemia,” he said. The specific diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or “ALL.” Weaver began intense chemotherapy immediately.

He grew very close with his pediatric hematologist-oncologist, Dr. Gordon Gale.

That was in 2005. Despite ongoing treatment, Weaver graduated from Belleville East High School on time. Just as he was preparing to go to college, he started feeling sick again.

More tests revealed he had cancer a second time. The diagnosis was lymphoma.

“Nothing like, oh I want to go to college, then — oh, wait a second. Maybe not so quickly,” the now 26-year old joked.

Weaver began treatment, again. He soon met another pediatric hematologist-oncologist on the team fighting to help him: Dr. Deepika Bhatla.

“Luke was already an established patient here when I first met him,” she said. “He was clearly a beloved patient down in (Bob Costas Cancer Center). I mean, everybody knew about Luke,” she said.

KSDK-TV reports that Weaver was still determined to go to college, and knew he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

“I remember from the time we started he wanted to grow up to be a pediatric oncologist,” Dr. Gale said.

Weaver earned a biology degree and several minor degrees from Quincy University while making monthly trips back to St. Louis for ongoing care. After he graduated, Weaver moved west, to study medicine at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

He graduated from KCU this May. Dr. Gale joined him onstage, as part of a special ceremony where a veteran doctor “hoods” the new graduate.

“It was pretty cool,” Dr. Gale said. “It was a great honor that he would think highly enough of me to want to do that for him.”

After interviewing with more than a dozen hospitals, Weaver, chose Cardinal Glennon to complete his medical residency. He plans to be a pediatrician, and may choose to specialize in hematology-oncology.

Dr. Weaver will be training under the same team of doctors that once treated him.

“It was that home feeling,” Weaver said, describing his desire to train at Cardinal Glennon. “That feeling that this was a part of me and I want to go back and treat kids that were just like me.”

Dr. Bhatla and Dr. Gale both beam with pride about Luke’s accomplishments as a patient and young doctor. They expect Dr. Weaver to succeed, and say his experience is valuable.

“I think he’s kind of uniquely placed to know exactly what kids who are getting treatment are going through,” Bhatla said.

“People like Luke will have much more empathy, I think, for many of the children and what they’re going through. He has walked in their footsteps,” added Dr. Gale.

Weaver just started his residency in early July. He has at least three years of long days and overnights filled with training in various specialties at Cardinal Glennon. Soon, that training will include the hematology-oncology department, where he still recognizes an old hospital room where he once stayed.

Weaver’s own health is good: He has been in remission for about eight years.

A young patient walked by as Dr. Weaver was reflecting on his time in the hospital. He paused the interview for a few moments to say hello, and smile through the window glass.

Weaver said it is for moments like that he chose pediatrics and this hospital.

“(Children) care not only about themselves, but they care about those around them,” he said.

“Who wouldn’t want to come to work every day and be able to play games and act like a kid?”

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