Big Dreams, Bright Future
After a bone marrow transplant at age 14 – which he almost didn’t survive – one former Doernbecher kid hopes to make medical school his next step.
Throughout his adolescence, Robert Lisac survived more than most of us can imagine. His six-year journey, which started with a cancer diagnosis in middle school, is now a triumphant testament to what happens when extraordinary care meets an extraordinary spirit.
Robert was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 12 years old and received a bone marrow transplant (BMT) at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital that saved his life. A couple of weeks after the transplant, he woke up struggling to breathe. His body was rejecting the new bone marrow. He made it through the night, and spent the next four years battling his condition with a steely determination not just to survive but to thrive. For the next three years, Robert needed a wheelchair, but after a hip replacement and two knee replacements, he was able to walk proudly across the stage to accept his high school diploma and speak to the student body – as their valedictorian.
As director of Doernbecher’s pediatric bone marrow transplantation program, Eneida Nemecek, M.D., remembers Robert well and is enormously proud of his achievements, just as she is proud of the role Doernbecher played in helping to make possible his bright future. The survival rate for kids who undergo a bone marrow transplant at Doernbecher ranks in the top 5 percent nationally – 70 percent compared to the national average of 56 percent. Put another way, of the 400 children whose transplants were performed at Doernbecher since the program began in 1996, 56 of them might not have survived elsewhere.
“My physicians each showed me in their own way what makes a great doctor.”
– Robert Lisac
Dr. Nemecek credits such success to her team’s sophisticated version of patient-centered, multi-disciplinary care, which brings together every team member – from physicians to care coordinators to patient families – in a highly coordinated effort. She believes the best practices her team developed dramatically improve outcomes for patients and families.
Those exceptional survival outcomes place Doernbecher’s BMT program on the front line of national clinical research. Dr. Nemecek is often invited to national and international conferences to share Doernbecher’s unique approach to disease treatment and patient follow-up, and to advocate for public policy issues affecting patients and families, including legislative and insurance changes.
That kind of dedication made an impression on Robert. In fact, today he is preparing to become a pediatric oncologist, inspired in part by his experiences at Doernbecher. “All my interactions with physicians over the years shaped this goal,” he said. “They each showed me in their own way what makes a great doctor.”
After graduating with honors from Linfield College, Robert is now working as a research assistant at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute while applying to medical schools, including OHSU.
“Of course I want to see Robert at OHSU, but wherever he goes he will make an enormous difference in this profession,” said Dr. Nemecek. “He will help shape its future.”