The community mobilizes to support the “incredible” La Crosse family during the cancer ordeal | Local News

Rob and Cindy Leitz with their grandchildren

The amount of adversity Rob Leitz has faced over the past three years would bring many to their breaking point, his string of devastating health issues leaving him weak, injured and fighting for his life.

Leitz family

Rob Leitz, center, with his wife Cindy and family.


Rob and his wife, Cindy Dolesy Leitz, are not superhuman. They sobbed, spent long periods in the hospital, and braced themselves for the worst. And yet, despite limited visits with their beloved children and grandchildren as the pandemic persists and the upcoming Christmas holidays are celebrated from a hospital bed, they have gratitude – and hope.

Yacki Hayashi Tanner

Yacki Hayashi-Tanner

The La Crosse family’s ordeal began in 2018 when Rob, who worked in a factory, fell at work and went to hospital for his injuries. During his stay, it was discovered that he suffered from Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a rare blood disorder that results in an extremely low platelet count. Side effects include severe bruising and bleeding.

“It was a huge shock,” says Cindy, specialist in the internal medicine residency program at Gundersen Health System. “He had a lot of bruises, but in the factory job, that’s expected.”

Six months later, Rob, who was still receiving transfusions for his ITP, returned to work only to suffer another fall, this time causing his lung to collapse and seven ribs ruptured. Due to his declining health and his need for rehabilitation, Rob retired prematurely.

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He spent a lot of time in the hospital, suffering from multiple spontaneous bruises, and made an average of 1.5 visits to Gundersen per week for his care for over a year. In February 2020, he had spontaneous heavy bleeding from his abdomen and was put on high dose steroids. Infections developed, biopsies were taken and by the time Rob left the hospital, the coronavirus pandemic was manifesting locally.

Last July, shortly after Cindy lost her brother, Rob was diagnosed with primary myelofibrosis, a cancer of the blood, after immature blood cells, or “blasts,” were discovered in lab tests. routine and a bone marrow biopsy has been performed.

“We knew he wasn’t doing well,” Cindy says. “He just wasn’t himself (and the treatment) just wasn’t working. So shocking as it was, it wasn’t.”

Cancer has a life expectancy of around five years, according to Clinical Advances in Hematology & Oncology, and their doctor, Cindy recalls, was honest with the couple, saying, “I don’t want to give you any hope, but I don’t I don’t want to give you false hope. “

Rob was told he would need an allogeneic stem cell transplant, the only possible cure for his condition, although the procedure carries its own risks and risks of death.

“He’s an incredible champion,” Cindy says of Rob. “At first it really got him down. He was really depressed. But that’s his only shot. He said, ‘I want to do this. I want to fight for my grandchildren and my family. His grandchildren mean everything to them. “

About a month ago, the Leitzes learned that there was an almost perfect match between bone marrow donors via, although they do not know the identity of the donor, if the person wishes to share, up to two years after the transplant.

If the family were to have the opportunity to speak to the donor, Cindy, bursting into tears, said, “I would scream, because I’m so grateful that I at least have the chance to try to save her life.”

The couple had limited opportunities to see their two adult children Ashley (Andy) Kuse and Garett (Sara) Leitz, and their four grandchildren, Aiden and Ava Kuse and Garett and Bryce Leitz, during the pandemic, with Rob at top risk of serious complications from COVID. They spent Thanksgiving only with Cindy’s mother as a precaution.

On December 9, the couple will travel to UW Madison so Rob can begin conditioning therapy for several days, followed by radiation therapy and then his transplant, scheduled for December 14.

How long Rob will stay in the hospital “really depends on his body,” Cindy says, with expected complications. Cindy plans to stay at a nearby hotel for the duration of Rob’s hospitalization, which can range from five weeks to three months or more.

Complications could occur for up to two years, with “a lot of ups and downs,” Cindy says, and they were warned if Rob developed a fever of 104 degrees, “we have an hour to get to the hospital for start antibiotics. “

With Cindy scheduled to take extended leave from her job at Gundersen and increasing expenses, including gas, accommodation, food, and medical bills not covered by insurance, her colleague Yacki (pronounced “Jackie”) Hayashi -Tanner has set up a Go Fund Me page for the family. A recent graduate of the Gundersen Internal Medicine Residency Program and now a DO at Gundersen hematology and medical oncology department, Hayashi-Tanner calls Cindy “A confidante and a second mother to many of us.”

“Cindy is easily one of the most selfless people you’ll meet in your life, always making you feel heard and ensuring that your well-being comes first,” Hayashi-Tanner writes on the Go Fund Me page. “No one would ever guess that his equally incredible other half, Rob, has been battling significant medical issues since 2018.”

The fundraiser raised over $ 33,000 of its goal of $ 50,000, which Cindy says “We could never have imagined.” Initially hesitant to accept the funds – “We didn’t want to ask for help” – every time they see the amount go up, “We scream,” Cindy says.

Cindy calls Hayashi Tanner “a very dear soul, a very special young woman”, and is incredibly grateful to her and those who have rallied with them, including financial donors – over 140 to date – friends, family, loved ones. beloved children and her colleagues at Gundersen, who were caring, understanding and accommodating, she says, and were quick to intervene during her absences.

“They’ve been so amazing to us,” Cindy said of their growing circle of supporters. “It’s so overwhelming, the amount of support we have. We’ve found that we’re loved more than we ever could have imagined. You feel like you don’t deserve it. It’s amazing. It is truly mind-boggling. “

As difficult as it has been and will continue to be, Cindy says, “I can’t complain. For everything Rob is going through, sit down and say ‘Why me? Why us?’ Well, why don’t we? We don’t wish that on anyone, ever. “

While many families will be spending the holidays with the extended family, comfortably and exchanging gifts, Rob and Cindy will be in the hospital, a successful treatment of their Christmas wish.

“It’s okay,” Cindy says of sharing the vacation in a sterile hospital room rather than by the fireside. “Because the hope is that it will give us more time on the road. Rob is an amazing human being. He is a very good person. We cannot thank people enough for making this trip with us. We are so grateful. “

To donate to “Rob Leitz’s Bone Marrow Transplant Fundraiser” on Go Fund Me, visit

Emily Pyrek can be reached at [email protected]

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