Christmas letters: 'Thank you for saving our son's life'

Christmas letters: 'Thank you for saving our son's life'

In honor of today's column, I thought I'd share a few Christmas letters I've come across over the years.

This first installment is one I found online from a writer named Ted Pack, whose website shares his dos and don'ts for holiday letters.

His own are often filled with humor, but this letter dates back to the year his son was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent treatment at Stanford's Lucille Salter Packard Children's Hospital.

Several passages remind me of the months we spent at my father's bedside when he was hospitalized with one complication after another following heart surgery.

Simply but movingly written, without being maudlin - plus a good ending:


"Hello, I'm Bob Fromuth. Your son has leukemia."

That was December 28, last year. I'd always wanted a dramatic opening line for a Christmas letter, but hoped it would be more along the lines of "Hello, I'm Robert H. Treller from Publisher's Clearing House, and I have some good news for you." As I tell the kids now and again, you don't always get what you want. We had taken Kenneth in to see why his flu didn't clear up. Linda, it turns out, had been worried that he was too pale. She feared the worst, as mothers do, only this time she was right. ...

... Kenneth's attending physician is Dr. Dahl, who doubles as a professor of pediatrics a Stanford. On New Year's day, when everyone in the normal world was watching football and sleeping off their hangovers, he did rounds. I watched him sit on the end of the bed and make quacking noises like Donald Duck to try to get Kenneth to smile. I had a vision of him stepping up to the podium in a large, crowded lecture hall: "Today's topic is: 'Bedside manners for three to five year olds'. We'll start with mouth sounds."

After 21 days of blood tests, spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies, intravenous drips and so forth they released him, and a week later his spinal tap was so clear they decided he was in remission. He went back for a three-day visit every two weeks for six months, so they could drip some industrial strength medicine into him. After that it was all downhill.... It sounds like an oxymoron, but his was a mild case of leukemia; he didn't even lose his hair. A lot of the kids on his ward did.

(I wonder about the eight to twelve year olds. What must it be like to stand face to face with Death, so close you can spit in his eye and say "Not today, thank you", spend a month with long, sharp needles and drugs that burn as they go in, then have to wear a hat when you go back to school so the stupids won't make fun of you?) ...

... (Right across the street from the Hospital is the one of the nicest shopping center on the SF Peninsula. It's filled with clean, cheerful, well-dressed people and their children. To get to it from the Oncology ward you go past a lobby that's sometimes filled with a family that has spent the night sleeping on the couches, unwashed, waiting to hear if their child is going to live. ...

[Historical note - this one is from long ago. Our son is a healthy teenager now, wearing size 12 shoes. His waist is thinner than mine but his hair is thicker. All it took was $750,000, two and a half years, 150 intelligent, highly-trained, incredibly competent people at Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, the support of our family, friends, co-workers and church members, a dozen people who gave blood and Dr. Gertude Elion, who devoted her life to research. She invented the drugs that they used.]

[Second note - I sent Dr. Elion a short note ("Thank you for saving our son's life") and a picture of Kenneth. She wrote back, saying she received about three dozen notes like mine every year, most with pictures of children whose lives she had saved. She added that she valued the pictures more than she did her Nobel prize:

Dr. Gertrude B. Elion, January 23, 1918 - February 21, 1999.
Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1988.


Read the full letter:


Do you have a Christmas letter to share, good, bad or otherwise? Send it to or just leave a comment below.

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Dan Corkery wrote on December 06, 2011 at 9:12 am
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Julie: You're not supposed to make your editor tear up on a Tuesday morning.