What Led Us to Mongolia: Dr. Eric Sandler Shares

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Our trip to Mongolia is now upon us! For me, this journey began back in college when I thought about joining the Peace Corps. I have always been fascinated by travel and learning about other cultures. After I completed my medical training, I thought about participating in the Doctors Without Borders program or another similar organization. Well, life got pretty busy and those dreams took a back seat.

Then, about 10 years ago, Dr. Rita Browning sat down in my office one day with tears in her eyes and said, “Dr. Sandler, what is the cure rate for ALL in the US?” When I told her it was about 70% at that time, she replied that “in Mongolia there were about 30 children diagnosed with ALL a year and they all died.” Rita and I spent several hours talking about health care in Mongolia and what we might be able to do to help. We talked about modifying a protocol that I participated in while working at UT Southwestern. It was called the DFW leukemia protocol, and it relied heavily on oral, relatively inexpensive chemotherapy. It had been developed by some of my brilliant colleagues there- Dr. Bart Kamen, Dr. Naomi Winnick and Dr. George Buchanan. The results had recently been published and they were as good as many of the “more intense” studies done by others. Over the next few months, we put together a modification that we thought might be feasible in Mongolia. They used it and it worked!

After receiving an update from Rita a couple of years ago, I learned that about 50% of the children treated were now surviving. However, they still had a dream of building a pediatric cancer program, and I still had a dream of helping them.

Shortly after that, I met a most remarkable young man named Jonathan. Jonathan was diagnosed with ALL in 2010. In the months that followed, Jonathan experienced many unusual complications associated with his treatment. It seemed that he had a very resistant form of the disease. Since he was hospitalized for long periods of time, I ended up spending a lot of time talking to Jonathan and his family. What a fascinating young man- at 13 years of age, he was an accomplished musician, a scholar, and truly a Renaissance man. One day, I asked Jonathan what he would like to do when he was finished with his treatment for leukemia. His reply was that he loved to travel, was fascinated by other cultures and really wanted to make a difference in the world. So that led me to my next question: Jonathan, where would you like to travel? His answer: Greenland and Mongolia- wow! We were probably the only 2 people in Jacksonville with a dream of visiting Mongolia and making a difference there! We decided maybe some day we would travel there together!

In September, 2010, after 6 months of trials and tribulations, Jonathan lost his battle with cancer. This incredible family , the Souds, in the middle of their grief and mourning, decided that Jonathan, who had taught us all so much about living, still had more to give the world. That’s when the plan was hatched to proceed with a medical mission to Mongolia in his memory.

And so here we are, ready to get on a plane on June 29 to take the first steps in what I hope will be an ongoing relationship between Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Nemours Children’s Clinic, the family of Jonathan Soud and the children of Mongolia. What an incredible way to honor this brave young man’s memory and to make a difference in the world.

-Dr. Eric Sandler

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  1. Jenna Sandler

     /  July 4, 2012

    I’m so proud of you Dad. Hope you and Beanie are having a blast!

  2. Susan Brauda

     /  July 4, 2012

    Wow. I count it as one of my life’s blessings for you to be Chase’s doctor. I was already proud to know you, but I must say that your efforts and the efforts of those with you are inspiring. I am sure that you ALL have made Jonathan very proud.


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