Sons give transplants to ‘fighter’ father

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 09:34 PM

Frederick Rainey always considered himself a healthy person.

He was a former Army communications sergeant who worked at the Durham VA Medical Center after his service.

But in the spring of last year, after looking pale and having low blood pressure, doctors told him during a screening that he was missing four pints of blood. That’s when Frederick received a shuddering diagnosis - he had myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder where the blood-forming cells in his bone marrow were damaged.

“They told me that if I didn’t get a transplant, in two years, it could blow up into leukemia,” he said.

Frederick was in denial. Then he called and visited his two sons, asking them to pray for him. Sean, a 20-year-old hospitality student at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, said he found out about his dad’s diagnosis on a sunny, clear day last spring.

“That was God giving me assurance that everything was going to be OK,” Sean said. “He’s a healthy guy. He’s a fighter.”

Frederick went through the first round of chemotherapy on his birthday last year, on June 4, but it wouldn’t be enough. He needed a stem cell transplant to replace his damaged cells with healthy ones. His oldest son, Donovan, a rising senior at Elon University, realized he was about a 66-percent match.

“This is somebody I love an extreme amount, and in order to keep him on this earth a little bit longer, I’ll do whatever I can to help him out,” Donovan said.

But the first donation didn’t take. Frederick passed out and spent a month in the hospital, incoherent.

“He was having a bad reaction to the medication and was pretty much fighting for his life,” said his wife, Teresa.

His second son, Sean, stepped up to the plate. He was tested, and doctors discovered he was an even greater match at 98 percent.

Duke Hospital calls the Rainey boys transplant record setters, the “Reigning Men.” Sean alone donated 40 million cells to his dad, and Donovan began to intern with the Duke Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

More than 150 days have passed since Frederick’s second transplant. He’s stick-thin and can’t stay in the sun for too long, but he’s getting better and he’s around family.

“I know they know this, but I think the world of my sons,” Frederick said.

“I have to go through this because my sons have to see me going through hardship and coming out of it,” he said. “I have to let them see that you can come out of stuff. There’s no time to quit.”