WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
In 2002, Paul Mouton had a conversation that would change—and save— his life. After several rounds of chemotherapy failed to push back the Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma he’d been diagnosed with the year prior, Paul, 38 at the time, was referred to Professor Peter Jacobs at Constantiaberg Mediclinic.
“Jacobs said, ‘I’m here to cure you,’” Paul remembers. “He said, ‘I’m not here to give you more time. We’re not here to have the conversation of how many months you’ve got left. We’ve got to get rid of this thing because you’ve got a life to live and you’ve got to get it done.’” I really love Professor Jacob’s mindset here: positive and courageous. I think we could all use a little bit of this!
Professor Jacobs proceeded to put Paul on an intensive, six-month chemotherapy regimen, which succeeded at pushing Paul’s cancer into remission. Paul was thrilled, but Prof Jacobs told him that it was just the start of his journey to get well. With a high possibility of relapse, Paul would need a bone marrow transplant—and the sooner the better. Time is critical in any medical journey, but especially for patients who are at high risk of a relapse, as many relapses can be even more serious and fast-spreading than the initial illness. When a physician decides that their patient needs a bone marrow transplant, finding a donor is the most important—and the most urgent—step in getting that patient well again.
They contacted the SABMR, who began an international search for a donor for Paul. While at first there were no matches anywhere in the world, a donor right here in South Africa soon joined the Registry and was discovered to be a match for Paul.
Paul’s transplant went smoothly, but during recovery, his body began to reject food, and soon he needed to be placed on a feeding tube. He tried to resume working from the hospital but was too ill. For Paul, normally highly active and dedicated to his work, such a major health setback made for a very difficult time. “My whole way of life changed. I was down in the dumps and I couldn’t do anything,” he remembers.
Once the essential isolation period ended, Paul returned home, but his body continued to refuse food. He was eager to return to work, but with a feeding tube and debilitating fatigue, the logistics made it too difficult. But his colleagues recognised that Paul was disheartened and found a way to bring him back into the office, which had long been a source of joy and purpose in Paul’s life. They carpooled Paul to work, assisted with medications, set up a bed for him near his workstation and helped ease his transition back.
Less than three weeks later, Paul felt himself again and returned to eating normally. He was overwhelmed with emotion while recounting the sacrifices made and dedication his colleagues demonstrated during a desperate time in his life. We want to say a special thank you to all of Paul’s colleagues, who went above and beyond to ensure that Paul was well cared for and able to return to the things he loved. May we all be blessed with friendships that lift us up and heal us!
“What my colleagues did was truly a gift,” Paul says. “The transplant gave me my life back, but going back to work brought me back to life.”
Paul credits his entire support system with the fact that he survived those harrowing years from diagnosis to post-transplant recovery. Through tears, Paul says, “The fact that I’m here today is completely because of the strength of my family, my colleagues, my community, my doctors and nurses. They came to my aid in my time of need and saved my life many times. It’s not something that happens often. In general, people care about others but they won’t go the extra mile. But here, for me, they did.”
Seventeen years post-transplant, Paul is in good health, back to work, and spending as much time as possible with his wife and family, including his brother and sister who live nearby. In 2019, Paul and his siblings completed the grueling El Camino walk in Spain (pictured here). They spend each December with his parents in Mossel Bay. “My family is the centre of my life,” he says. “That is a gift I feel very lucky for.”
Paul is still the Head of Research and Development at Traderoot, a financial technology company which he helped found 22 years ago.
After his journey through illness and recovery, which he refers to as a “blessing,” Paul says he’s sought more gratitude in his daily life. “With illness, you don’t all the sudden become a perfect person or anything like that. But you can change your direction. You can be more grateful for what you have,” he says. “Gratitude is what we’re missing most in life. You will live a better life if you learn to be grateful.”I speak on behalf of the whole SABMR team when I say we are so happy for you, Paul. Your resilience in the face of hardship was truly amazing, and your story is a beautiful reminder of the importance of community, no matter where we find it!
Ten years post-transplant, Paul met his donor, Francois Dreyer. I’ll be posting a story about their friendship two weeks from today, so make sure to give us a follow on our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages below so you don’t miss it!