Katie Trebing's story offers life lesson, inspiration
As the school year began last month, so did the debut of a new class at Wantagh High School: Bioethics. Biology teacher Ody Svolos wanted students to be able to explore developments in medical technology and question their uses.
A five-day Newsday series last week on Katie Trebing of Nesconset provided a textbook look at cutting-edge technology and its intersection with ethics that played out in the students' own backyard, Svolos said.
Each weekday at 12:30 p.m., 30 students from two of Svolos' classes, Advanced Placement Biology and Bioethics, logged on to Newsday.com to ask questions during live video chats. The series "The Match" detailed how Katie's parents, Steve and Stacy Trebing, had a third child, Christopher, who, through a bone marrow transplant, cured Katie's deadly bone marrow disease.
"Just hearing about the concept of producing another life purposely was really cool," said Alana Jacobs, a 17-year-old senior in the bioethics class. "It's really cool to hear .people's opinions morally, religiously and ethically."
A slew of responses
The chats drew hundreds of viewers overall during the week; chat guests included Steve and Stacy Trebing and Peter C. Williams, a bioethicist from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine.
Along with responding to the live chats, approximately 200 e-mails were sent to the newspaper or the reporter. Many writers offered the Trebing family good luck. Some writers questioned whether what the Trebings did was wrong because, in the process of creating a third child who could cure Katie, the couple rejected excess embryos. Others expressed concern about Christopher, who was born with the task of helping his sister.
A Rockville Centre father of three who is fighting brain cancer said the series buoyed his spirits and a Flushing mother of three offered Katie her own daughters' stored umbilical cord blood if the Trebings needed it.
Among a number of phone calls to the Trebings' home was one from a Long Island mother whose child died after a bone marrow transplant intended to cure Diamond Blackfan anemia, the same disease Katie was born with.
A family's saga
Katie was diagnosed with the disease soon after her birth in 2002. The Trebings were given only one option to cure her: create the perfect donor matchup for Katie.
The Trebings, who said they had always wanted another child, enlisted medical experts to help them have a baby who shared a certain portion of Katie's inherited DNA and could, once born, offer her a bone marrow transplant that would cure the disease.
In 2004, Stacy Trebing underwent in vitro fertilization, with an extra step. When the embryos were three days old, an embryologist pulled one cell off each embryo. A geneticist tested each cell in a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis to determine which embryos could provide Katie the match she needed.
Christopher Trebing was born in May of 2005, and, one year later, in May of 2006, he gave bone marrow for his sister's transplant at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
Last month, cured, Katie returned to preschool.
An inspiration to others
One reader, Joseph Buckheit of Rockville Centre, said the series made him re.consider the way he thought about his cancer. Buckheit, 52, has had lung cancer and in June was diagnosed with brain cancer. He said he's awaiting word on whether he will have to undergo brain surgery.
His goal, he said in an interview, is to help his three children, ages 17, 14, and 10, live normal lives as he deals with his cancer. That, he added, has been difficult.
"I didn't handle it as well as I wanted to," he said in a telephone interview Friday. "I guess I was feeling sorry for myself."
Then he read "The Match." "For me the article was a wake-up call," he said, meaning seeing someone else's medical troubles made him feel he could overcome his own.
Buckheit also wrote to the Trebings: "If it is any comfort to you, please remember that your story has already helped one person -- me."