DiClementi inspires others
Henry DiClementi in his Northbrook backyard May 26. Henry’s Heroes supports the Leukemia Research Foundation, also the June 14 Jim Gibbons 5K Run/Walk. Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:26PM
Those who have been close to death, by their example, gently remind others to appreciate things that maybe only survivors fully understand.
“I have met some of the nicest people I have ever known the past couple of years,” said Northbrook resident Henry DiClemente, who was diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) when he was 14, his freshman year at Glenbrook North High School.
Now a junior who just got his driver’s license: “I don’t have time for all of the bad attitudes and outlooks. It’s sad you have to go through an experience like this to feel this way.”
Henry, who will be 17 Saturday, underwent six months of intensive chemotherapy. Achieving remission, he entered his sophomore year, enjoying fishing, canoeing, catching up on schoolwork.
But then Henry relapsed, requiring a bone marrow transplant obtained from a matched donor in Germany in February, 2011.
But time in the ICU was still ahead.
“I have a few memories from my close calls, but those are for me,” said Henry.
“I feel that the memories will lose meaning if everyone knows about them and analyzes them.”
While at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Henry met Collin Wehr, a Northbrook Shabonee School student, who is being treated for medulloblastoma, a brainstem tumor.
“All I can say is that he (Collin) always had a smile on his face,” said Henry, who has one sister, Emma, 18, a 2012 GBN (last weekend) graduate.
Recalled Kathy DiClementi, Henry’s mother (22-year Northbrook resident): “As Henry entered freshman year at GBN, his energy was low.
“My husband Bob and I attributed it to freshman nerves. He also had trouble with his voice. Most days he simply wouldn’t talk.”
After Henry awoke in the middle of the night with severe back pain, his parents rushed him to the emergency room.
“We knew he had leukemia within an hour and were headed to Children’s Memorial,” said Kathy.
“We were in shock but as we entered the hospital, our pity party ended. We were amazed at how many other families deal with children that have devastating illnesses.”
The National Institutes of Health cites childhood acute myeloid leukemia causes bone marrow to produce large numbers of abnormal blood cells.
Overall survival rates have improved since the 1980s with five-year survival rates today in the 60 percent range.
“After two long rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant, his prognosis is very good,” reports Henry’s mother.
“A lot of it has to do with his sincere positive outlook,” said Kathy.
“We have met many others who have gone through the exact same illness and treatment who are happy, healthy, productive adults.”
“We, as a family, as well as all of his doctors and nurses, worked very hard to keep his spirits up during treatment.”
Said Henry: “Seeing how fast things can go downhill makes me a ‘yes man.’ I am not as afraid to go out and try new things and have fun.”
A 12-day July Grand Canyon National Geographic Student Expositions whitewater rafting trip encourages fun and camping.
“First time he will leave all his family and friends behind,” said Henry’s mother. “He is very excited.”
In the meantime, Henry’s Heroes bring out Henry’s best. Henry’s Heroes, formed by caring others, symbolizes tested spirit.
Said Molly Isbell of Northbrook: “When I heard about Henry and his family in January 2011, friends and neighbors had just come together to create ‘Henry’s Heroes’ and were determined to help the DiClementi family. We worked together to raise funds for patient financial assistance. The result was nothing short of amazing.”
Isbell serves as Wilmette-based Leukemia Research Foundation director of special events.
Isbell and her husband Scott, 14-year Northbrook residents, have two sons, Drew, 13, a Maple School seventh grader and Devin, 10, a Wescott School fourth-grader.
Henry and his heroes are supporting the Leukemia Research Foundation Jim Gibbons ABC-7 5K event which takes place June 14 in Chicago Lincoln Park.
Donations are encouraged at http://active.com/donate/lrf2012/HenrysHeroes.
“We feel truly blessed to have the DiClementi family in our corner, supporting our mission to fund worldwide research and provide patient programs in the Chicago area,” said Isbell. Also visit www.Leukemia-Research.org.