Los Altos youngster comes out swinging after bone marrow transplant

Photo By: Courtesy of Amy Hofmann
Photo Courtesy Of Amy Hofmann

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, second from left, visits with Grady Hofmann and his family following Grady’s bone marrow transplant last spring. Pictured with Harbaugh are, from left, Hayden, Amy, Rusty, Grady and Baylor.

As the ritual delights of summer approach, one tenacious and sports-loving 9-year-old is particularly thrilled to be outside and on the baseball diamond once again.

Grady Hofmann plans to eat ice cream and cake April 19 with his brothers and friends instead of enduring chemotherapy treatments, blood tests and transfusions at the hospital. On that date a year ago, Grady underwent a lifesaving bone marrow transplant that profoundly affected everyone in his life.

A child’s illness is perhaps the greatest test of a family’s endurance. For Rusty and Amy Hofmann of Los Altos, that moment came in December 2011 when Grady, the youngest of their three sons, fell ill after a normal swim at the pool.

“A virus was attacking my cells,” Grady said of the onset of his illness. “I needed to take my cells out and replace them with my dad’s (cells).”

The diagnosis of Grady’s virus-induced aplastic anemia exposed the need for a bone marrow transplant to repair his damaged white and red blood cells. Rusty, an interventional radiologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, happened to be a perfect donor match for his son. A donor is found in direct families only 30 percent of the time, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, and the percentage is much lower for a parent, as children inherit genetic markers from both mother and father.

Although the transplant was only a four-hour procedure, it’s taken Grady nearly a year for his body to accept the new cells. Following 60 days of hospitalization, he remained in isolation for 100 days and returned to doctors for dozens of appointments.

“I can’t be in groups, can’t eat certain foods, can’t touch anyone else,” said Grady of the rules he followed to protect himself from infection.

Because he could not attend classes, a teacher home-schooled him, and his friends hosted hangouts via the “Gradybot” – a robot that enables two-way video communications remotely.

Despite the setbacks, Grady said he didn’t let restrictions deter him.

When his dad hesitated to buy a trampoline because of safety concerns, Grady found a spring-free model that would be safe enough for him to use with his brothers.

And, just last month, Grady took his first swing at bat in more than a year during his Little League team’s season opener. He might even return to school this week.

Steps to recovery

During one of Grady’s first return visits to Santa Rita School last fall, he fell ill during an assembly. Although the experience was a frightening reminder of how long a return to normal life would take for the entire family, a caring community surrounded them that day and at every step along the way.

“We’re so inspired by you,” said Santa Rita Principal Ryan Haven at the assembly. “It really helps us build a closeness and purpose to help other people together.”

Knowing how important LEGOs were to Grady throughout his long hospitalizations, his Santa Rita classmates presented $380.40 to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital during the assembly for the purchase of LEGO sets for other sick children.

Whether through hot meals delivered to their home during the transplant period, neighbors who helped transport Grady’s brothers, prayers from the congregation at St. Nicholas Parish or international friends who lit candles for the family at the Vatican, community was an indispensible element of the recovery process.

Grady even received a visit from San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who heard about Grady’s love of the team and wanted to show his support.

“You don’t ever get to see true human altruism,” Rusty said. “But when you’re sick and you need help, you really see people who, all they want to do is to help you ... purely altruistic. That’s one of the greatest gifts of this experience.”

With a clean bill of health as he nears the important milestone of one-year post-transplant, eating ice cream and cake will be nice, but not nearly as sweet as the Hofmann family being together for another day.

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