Nearly two years ago, Marilee Killpack gave birth to a baby boy. That baby boy was diagnosed with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a life-threatening genetic syndrome that affects just one in 250,000 children and is only symptomatic in boys. The life expectancy was 3-5 years. There was, however, one possible way to save his life: He could receive a bone marrow transplant and his 7-year-old brother was a perfect match.
"I can't articulate it well, but I came to love Abraham as a mom because he was saved and needed saving. And I think of our Heavenly Parents who have this Son, who is perfect and they know He's going to do it and they know He's going to be awesome and then to look at us, like I look at Abraham, and realize he needs saving. He's not going to make it and there's just such a love that I can't explain for him for fighting, and for being saved by his older brother."
Talk: The Character of Christ
Scripture: Mosiah 27:21 “What the Lord had done”
Quote: “The family that prays together is together, even when they are far apart.” -President Henry B. Eyring
Quote from “Faith Is Not Blind”: “For every Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who are saved from the flames (Daniel 3), an Abinadi is allowed to burn (Mosiah 17). For every wayward Alma the Younger that is brought to the light from a pleading, faithful parent (Mosiah 27), a Laman and Lemuel continue to stray (1 Nephi). For every 2,000 stripling warriors who leave the battle with nothing more than wounds (Alma 56:56), 1,005 are left to be slain by the sword
(Alma 24:22). For every Ammon who brings thousands of souls to repentance (Alma 26:22), a Mormon and Moroni labor all the days of their life and never see the fruits of their labor (Moroni 9:6). For every blind to see, deaf to hear, and lame to walk (Matthew 11:5), the experience of unfathomable suffering awaits in Gethsemane (Matthew 26). However . . . For every Abinadi who is burned, sometimes an Alma takes the doctrine to heart and begins a lifetime in service to God (Mosiah 17). For every 1,005 who are left to be slain, sometimes we see ‘the Lord worketh in man ways to the salvation of his people’ as more souls are brought to repentance than the number who perished (Alma 24:27). For every ‘thy will be done’ in submission to the agony of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:39), there is a prayer too beautiful to be recorded, the blessing of children one by one, angels descending from the opened heavens, and tears streaming down the face from One who can finally declare full joy (3 Nephi 17).” -Nathan Leonhardt
Quote: “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” -Preach My Gospel
Elder Holland Story: “All Is Well”
Podcast: “This Is the Gospel”
Read a full transcript below:
Morgan Jones: One son is in need of saving. His older brother has the ability and the power to save. It is a story that sounds familiar to us. It is a story that Marilee Killpack and her family have been living for the past year and a half. Marilee wrote the following about the bone marrow transplant from her oldest son Copeland to her youngest son, Abram: "Theirs is a story of need and offering, of health and sickness, of accomplishing together what one cannot do alone, of miracles against all odds, of heroes who fight and heroes who give, of connection that runs so deep it literally runs in their bones, of giving new life where there may not have been. It's a story of hope we are humbled and honored to tell."
In 2014, following a successful Kickstarter, Marilee Killpack co-founded Gathre, a modern leather goods company that seeks to make space for the worthwhile. Gathre, spelled G-A-T-H-R-E, has since expanded its product line, but its original mats have been featured by Vogue, Reader's Digest, and New York Magazine. Marilee and her husband, Devin, are the parents of four children.
This is "All In," an LDS Living Podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones and I am so grateful to have my friend Marilee Killpack with me today. Marilee, welcome.
Marilee Killpack: Thank you! I'm so happy to be here. Such an honor. Very humbled. It's a great podcast.
MJ: You have so much to share with people. And so I'm so excited for people to hear your story. I scoured Marilee's Instagram account the other day, which I had followed along a little bit with this journey that you've been on, but I had never really dug into it. And I just, literally, I think I cried all day. So, here we are, and we are going to hopefully not cry through this entire podcast. But first of all, I wondered if you could just give people a little synopsis of what you and your family have gone through with your son, Abram, over the last, I guess, couple years. It's coming up on two years, is that right?
MK: That's right. Abram is our fourth son. So we have four kids, a boy, two girls, and then Abram, and he was born December of 2017. So yeah, he's coming up on two years old, which is crazy. But he was born with a rare genetic disease which is fatal, like one in a million rare. It's a blood disease where his platelets don't work. And so because his platelets don't work, his blood can't communicate well to each other. So they're prone to really get a lot of infectious diseases and then it typically leads to cancer. So I had my third baby, I run a business—really in the thick of, you know, raising kids— and I found out I was pregnant. Total surprise against every odd and I was very upset and terrified because I just didn't think I could do it. And I got a blessing from my husband that said Heavenly Father needs you to take care of this boy right now. And he needs to come right now. And so I felt calmer, but he came seemingly safe. Really smooth delivery, gratefully. But he had little red dots all over his body, broken capillaries, called "petechiae." And the doctors figured it out pretty quickly, he got taken to NICU and stayed there for a week and just wasn't doing the right thing. So they couldn't figure out what, but they sent him home after a week saying, you know, "We'll do some more testing, good luck." So he came up to primary children's and no one really knew what was going on, but they kept watching him and three weeks in, he got severe eczema. Like you'd put a shirt on him and his skin would just peel off, he couldn't smile, just excruciating pain. And that lasted until we figured out his diagnosis. We went up to the hospital after his eczema appeared, and pretty quickly they looked at him and I knew that they knew something was up. And, they said, "Oh, how long has he had this and what's going on? We're going to run a test. I mean, he doesn't have this disease, but we're just going to run it in case. And don't look it up. Don't Google it. Here's the name. And we'll let you know. It takes a month." So for a month, gratefully I think, Heavenly Father gave me a tender mercy that I forgot the name. I couldn't remember it and I looked it up one night because I was just so concerned for him, you know, a little two-month-old baby boy struggling. And I remember it was Valentine's Day, and my husband was putting the kids to bed, so romantic. He's a good man. And I was sitting at the top of our stairs, and I remember just googling it. Like, "baby boy, platelets and eczema." And the first thing that popped up was a syndrome, the name of the syndrome that the doctor told me not to Google and I just fell on the floor like crumbled in a mess. And as I read on Wikipedia, it just showed, you know, the complications and their problems and that it was life-threatening, and most kids didn't survive past toddlerhood. So at the time, I remember thinking, well, there's nothing we can do about it. The Wikipedia listing didn't say there's options, so I just thought he was dying. So I remember my husband came out and I couldn't even look at him. I handed him the phone, and he started reading. And I said I have to go and I just got out of the house and I just had to just like breathe for a while. And then I came back and he was sobbing, and we were both sobbing. And so we just kind of moved on. And we met with the doctors. A month later, the tests confirmed what we had thought was true. Abram did have Wiskott-Aldrich, but the doctors came in and told us that there was a hope that for kids who have this disease that you can give them a bone marrow transplant. Which essentially wipes out their current bone marrow. And a donor gives them new marrow, which heals and resolves all the blood issues that are fatal for these kids. So it was hopeful. We had a year before transplant. He was diagnosed in March and we went to transplant in April of 2019 this year, and so we had a whole year to wait it out. And we did and he was safe and gratefully nothing crazy happened. And then we went to transplant and we found out that his older brother and sister were both perfect matches, 10 out of 10 matches for his bone marrow.
MJ: How likely is that?
MK: Yeah, it's a one in four chance, 25% chance that one sibling would be a match. So for two, it's at like a 12% chance that they would both be matches. But most kids, as we found out as we went to transplant, most kids don't have sibling matches because most Americans don't have lots of kids. So, you have two or three siblings and the chances that one of them is a match is pretty rare. A sibling match is the most ideal for a transplant. So it was a miracle. And we went through transplant and we're on the flip side, and we've learned so much. It was obviously the most humbling experience we've been through to date, but very, very grateful for it.
MJ: Yeah. Well, I just am so impressed by the way that you've handled this. I think for me, I look at it and I'm like, we're the same age. Like I have no kids, no responsibility, and I look at you and I'm just like, holy cow. You have taken this trial and just taken it in stride. And so, I'm so excited for people to hear your testimony and the things that you've learned from this. First of all, how were you able to find peace immediately following the diagnosis, when it just seemed like there wasn't a solution or any kind of hope?
MK: Yeah, that was probably the darkest night I think, because there wasn't hope. I didn't know that he could be saved. And it just felt like, you know, we'll hold him for as long as we can and make the best of it. I called my sister the next morning, like, "Can you come take some pictures?" She was a photographer. She didn't know why. But I was like, "You need to take them today. Come over and take pictures of our family," because I thought he was just going to be gone. But that night was Valentine's Day, my husband had gotten me flowers, and then the Church had done like a fundraiser and brought roses and chocolates. So, I had all these things and I remember crumpling to the floor and just thinking I have to do something. Like I can't, I couldn't bear it. So I grabbed all the things that my husband had given me and I went around to my ministering sisters. One of them was in the middle of a divorce, and one of them was struggling with her husband's financial situation. And I just like dropped off the roses and chocolates and the things. And I'm grateful Heavenly Father planted that in my heart so that as I've been through this transplant process, I have learned that using your sorrow to help others, brings real joy and peace. And that night, just turning outward when I was in the thick of darkness, it was everything. It helped me recenter and just come back and know that people have different struggles and we can all make it through if we help each other out.
MJ: Yeah, that reminds me of, have you ever read the talk, "The Character of Christ," by Elder Bednar? I just think that that idea of turning outward, I think that's such a powerful thought. In retrospect Marilee, right now as you're like on the flip side of this, how do you feel, looking back, that you were prepared for this experience?
MK: So yeah, I actually got a lot of blessings during that year. And one of them said in specific, "Your whole life has prepared you for this trial." So as I've looked back on my life, it seems that I can find little things like, "Maybe this helped me with that, and maybe this helped me with that." I think some of the most notable ones are the fact that our oldest two kids are matches. That they were born eight and six years before Abram was born, and with the exact blood match for him to save his life, and that's not an accident. Heavenly Father prepared them. And I know as our journey continued, that that experience with having an older brother be Abrams donor, was one of the biggest reasons that we had to go through this. So that I could learn about the atonement and about our older brother and how He saved us in need. But I think some other things that helped us prepare are, I run a business. And we had a really successful couple of years that enabled us to hire. So I didn't have to be running a business while going through this. Our third baby was a C-section, emergency C-section, and I think she came in such a struggle so that I would be prepared for Abram to come and struggle, and her birth prepared for him to arrive safely. And then the last thing I would just say is I think I was prepared because Heavenly Father, through a couple of blessings, told me that this was coming and in one of them even in specific said, "I bless you to feel at comfort with his name." And I felt that he should be called Abram as soon as that blessing came. And as we had a year to prepare, I've just reflected a lot on Abraham in the scriptures, and his trial and his name, Abram, before his trial. And here I have a little son who had a trial coming and knew it was coming. And he was prepared just like our father prepared Abraham to do something, you know, really hard and to make it through. And I know Heavenly Father had prepared me with those thoughts, even before he was born through a blessing, and these siblings through their genetic makeup to make it through and make it through well.
MJ: Yeah. I want to kind of touch on a couple of things that you mentioned there. The first with Copeland, your oldest son, and that he was able to donate his bone marrow to his little brother. I love that when I heard you share your experience briefly previously, one thing that really touched me was how you talked about your kids going to be tested to see if they were a match. And you talked about how excited they were. Can you tell listeners a little bit about that?
MK: So we found out he was diagnosed in March, and the next day we took them to the hospital to get tested. And it's just a blood draw, a simple draw. And a couple— I have two kids that are brave, and one that's a little nervous. And so I think they thought that they were, I don't know, hopefully not going to die, but like, just hopefully will be safe. And we told them very clearly that you're just going to give some of your blood, you don't have to die to do this, but you're just going to give some of your blood. And if you do, you know, you'll be able to save your little brother's life. And so we told them, we just really need you to pray that you can be a match. So they just started praying for a year straight, "Help us to be able to help Abram live and have blood that can save his life." They were so tender and sweet about it. And when we found out that the oldest two are matches, it was really sweet because you could tell on their face it was a mix of both like, "I'm really excited that we can save him, but that means I have to do something hard, and scary and I'm nervous." But they were so sweet and brave, didn't vocalize it. Didn't ever say I don't want to do it, but just, "okay!" With all the little faith of a little seven and five-year-old at the time. And we found out pretty quickly that Copeland would be the match. And when we told Bliss she wasn't going to be able to do it, it was like, "Woo!" She was just so relieved, which I think just speaks to how brave and courageous they were to be willing to do it.
MJ: Yeah. They're so little and I think back to like when I was little. I had to have some blood drawn once and I lost it. Like I freaked out. And so I can only imagine feeling, and then, if you're a match, what does that mean? What do I have to do then, if this is what I had to do just to be tested?
MK: I know, and we tried to be clear that you know, you're going to be safe. It's all going to be okay.
MJ: Yeah. One thing that you wrote, while we're on this topic of Copeland and donating. You wrote, "Post-transplant, Abrams blood type will change to match Copeland's. If all goes well, even most of his DNA will change to match Copeland's. Over the last year, I've studied about blood and marrow and scripture and science, and I've learned so much in relation to what is about to happen to my two sons. One older brother selflessly giving his blood to save another's life, the other, unable to make it on his own, will be given a new chance at a new life. In a new way, I better understand Jesus suffering for us by witnessing Copeland's perspective, Abram's perspective, and a parent's perspective on our little medical journey. Its literalness has transformed my awe and gratitude for a Savior and Heavenly Parents who saved me and you. I know we have a loving Savior who spilled his precious, perfect blood, that we become new people." This is something that I've always believed in, but it's hard to wrap your head around it, is this saving power between siblings. So what have you learned about that, and what has that taught you about our Savior's love for us as his siblings?
MK: Yeah, I think just to give a little more perspective about the process between those two siblings. We went up to Seattle because they were a hub for what Abrams transplant was needed for. And as we were up there, Copeland came with us and needed to do all the testing to make sure he was perfectly healthy, that he didn't have anything scary, that we were just going to go put in a baby that is needing help. And then it was a month of prepping for chemo, and then chemo to wipe out all of Abram's bone marrow to get all his levels all the way down to zero. And then the actual harvest where they received his marrow and then they put it into Abram, directly into his heart.
MJ: How long was that process?
MK: Yeah, we were in Seattle for almost six months. Copeland was with me for about two of those. So it took a while for everything to get going. And while we were prepping and getting ready, I could see sweet little Copeland being brave. I mean, he is a superhero and he saved his little brother's life. But as it came nearer and nearer, you could see like, this is real, and Abram's getting sick. And I have to help him, you know, the weight of it, kind of, I think you could see it start to sink in. And he wasn't ever nervous, he didn't ever complain. But the day of, he's just getting so excited and we had family in helping us get everything coordinated. At this point Abram's so sick, he's an inpatient in the hospital every day, can't leave, and we had to leave him to go be with Copeland to receive this operation to get the marrow out. So we're getting him all prepped. He's gowning up and putting the hats and shoes on. And we go back and the anesthesiologist is helping us talk through it in the operating room and I got to go be with him. They ended up laying him on the table and talking about, you know, "Do you want bubble gum or root beer?" and he picked bubble gum and it smells so awesome. And they lay him down and put it on and he's holding my hand and he starts to you know, breathe it in. It starts to make him woozy and he's getting a little uncomfortable. And he just starts looking at me and holding his hand and his eyes just start getting so big. I'll never forget it. And he looks up and says, "Mom, I don't like this." And he just said it twice. "Mom, I don't like this." And here I am, as a mom just stuck between my two kids, one who won't make it without his older brother and one who doesn't want to do it. "I don't like this mom." And at the time, I couldn't do anything. My hands were tied, you know. And it just taught me so much about our Savior and even from a perspective of our Heavenly Parents that they watched these siblings work it out and here they are watching all their children who need saving, and their one son who has the only power to save. And I think of the relationship between the siblings. It has taught me so much about my Savior. He loved us enough to be willing to do that and to go through it even when he said, "Would that I might not drink of the cup." And he has done that for each of us willingly. And I think seeing my boys go through this has taught me so much. I see myself in Abram. I cannot be saved without Jesus Christ. And I see myself in that need. And then I see Copeland and his willingness and his ability to save and I see my Savior. So it's taught me so much about our relationship between Jesus Christ and His grace and healing power and ability to save us.
MJ: That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I was so impressed as I went through your Instagram. First of all that you were willing to share this with people because I think that it's important. I think our stories are powerful, and that's something that I've always believed. But I do think sometimes when you're in the thick of something, the last thing you want to do is get on Instagram and share something about it. And I was impressed that you actually talked about this, you said that you have introvert tendencies. And you said that a scripture in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 27:21 helped you understand why you felt compelled to share these things that your family was experiencing. And that Scripture says, "And he caused that a multitude should be gathered together that they might witness what the Lord had done for His Son, and also for those that were with him." As you were going through this, how did you see the importance of sharing these things that we go through and the things that we experience?
MK: Yeah, I think that was such an answer. I had a year to think about what was coming up and it felt like in a way, a bone marrow transplant is the same treatment as you would get as if you had cancer, so in a way, it felt like my son had cancer, but not for a year. I knew he was going to get cancer in a year and it was a really forming year. And I just waffled back and forth. Do I share? Do I not? Is this something that I should open up about? And it took, like almost a full year for me to get my answer, and one night, I was just reading scriptures, nothing glorious. And this literally jumped out of the page, where Alma gets the answer that he has this gathering of people who need to know that God can do His work through His Son, and that gave me a lot of comfort. "Okay, Heavenly Father, I'll do it. I'll share. Whatever you need me to do." And with that purpose, the transplant process became very holy, I think because I knew that whatever happened that God had His hand in it, and Ge needed me to open up and be brave and let other people in and let other people see what was going to happen. And I think it's resonated with a lot of people on a lot of levels because it's like our humanity's story of we have a Savior. And whether or not they're LDS, or believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and or have a testimony of Jesus Christ— I would be in the store at Target, and I would be picking up school supplies and this woman came up to me and just burst into tears, talking about like, "Oh, you're from Utah. What are you doing over getting a transplant?" And she just burst into tears. I assume she wasn't LDS. But what a powerful story. I really needed to hear that today. And I think it resonates so deep in us because we know we have an older brother who saved us, and He will always save us. And I think people needed to hear it and I needed to share. And one principle that really stood out to me, the unit that we lived on has glass windows. Every room is full of glass windows. So you walk around, and you can see the kid throwing up in his room and the bedpan's on the floor. And, you know, the girl who gets the sad news from the doctors and when they lose their hair, and you become this little community of a very dysfunctional family. And you see each other walking laps and you see each other in the greatest and worst of times, and those glass walls meant a lot to me because I could see when people were suffering and you get to see in and it's just open. And I think that's one thing that the transplant has really changed me for is letting the suffering in and seeing it. Looking for it. Looking at it straight in the eye, and knowing that that person is suffering. I wish in a lot of ways that we could open up and have glass walls and see the people when they get the bad news and what is going on in their lives. And I think for me, opening up and sharing that story was our glass wall at the time. And being able to hear people say things like, "I am recovering from addiction and watching Abram go through this story has helped me let go. If he, a little one-year-old baby boy, can fight then I can let go of my addictions and I can fight." And I think seeing people resonate with Abram and Copeland's story gave me the impetus to keep sharing and to keep telling their story because it needed to be heard.
MJ: I love how throughout, you kind of shared quotes and things that you were finding and learning, and I think this is interesting because you were not able to go to church very often during this period of time. So how did you strengthen your testimony? What things did you draw upon to have that spiritual upliftment during that period?
MK: Yeah, it was hard not being at church. I have always loved the gospel with my whole heart. And there is something very powerful about being in a group of saints and hearing each other, strengthening each other, sharing testimonies and our faith. And it's now been two years, I've probably been to church 10 times and I didn't know what I would miss about it. But I've learned the young men and the elders quorum, even the ward in Seattle, brought us the sacrament every week, and they come and they kneel on my living room floor and they share the scripture that says in the sacrament prayers, "I bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it." And it was just one soul, just mine, in a hospital room, or it was just my husband at home with the kids and I learned that Jesus Christ's atonement is just for me. It's just for Copeland, just for Abram, our whole family. And I learned to draw upon the strength of the sacrament even just for five minutes. And then I became like ravenously hungry for anything I could get my hands on scripture. I was permanently listening to talks, and just trying to feed my soul. I don't have any extra tips besides I just was hungry for it. And I think turning to him was the only place I found peace. And so it became just a lifeline.
MJ: Another thing that you posted about quite a bit was the temple. And that sometimes you all would just go and walk the grounds or whatever, to draw upon the power of the temple. What did the temple come to mean to you? And you had one there in Seattle, right? So what did that come to mean to you during that year that you were there?
MK: Yeah. While we were prepping, I made sure that that year before transplant to not miss a week of attending the temple. In our temple covenants, there are direct words spoken in relation to the things that Abram needed. And I couldn't go to the temple without thinking of those words and knowing that I needed them for my son. And those words became such a strength. And then once we were up in Seattle, we couldn't go to the temple because of germs. And so every Sunday, we just sat on the grounds. I couldn't go to church, but I could go sit and stare at it. And I would think about our promises. My dad had a quote on his wall growing up, above his light switch, as long as I can remember that was by Vaughn J. Featherstone that said, "If our people will faithfully attend the temple, the Lord will bless them in the following ways: Their businesses and professions will prosper. Angels will protect them. There will be greater love and unity in their home and their children will be saved." So I think for me, those four promises, I needed every single one. Our family was ripped apart. I couldn't work. I didn't know what was going on with our business. I needed angels around us and I needed a son to be saved. So I just wanted Heavenly Father to know that even if I couldn't go, I would at least do my best to be as close as I could. And those temple covenants really strengthen us.
MJ: I love that so much. This year, I've been trying to go to the temple more often. And it's amazing like when you go more, how much more you feel supported and sustained. And the things that normally would have liked knocked you flat, don't. So I'm super grateful for that. Another thing that impressed me was your family's dedication to each other. You have a quote that you frequently quoted. I believe it, is it President Eyring? "The family that prays together is together, even if they are far apart." And I, first of all, love just that idea of your family. So Copeland, you said was there for two months. And you and Abram were in Seattle for how long?
MK: Almost six months.
MJ: Okay. And then during that time, your husband had your other two children here in Utah.
MK: So at the beginning, he was home with the two girls, "single momming" it, as I like to call it. And then he came up for parts of transplants as best as he could. A week here, fly home a weekend there. And then the whole family came up once Abram had his 50 days in the hospital, and they came up for a month. So four of the six months we were apart. Almost five months total. So one month together in Seattle, and then siblings here and there, and Devin and I here and there. So we FaceTime prayed every night together. And it was simple and I don't know if that's disrespectful, but at least I could see my kids so that we could pray together. That quote is on our mantel, I wrote it on our letter board. And it wass still there when I came home, and it was a sweet reunion to think we were apart for six months. And especially my two daughters that didn't see me for six months, they struggled. It was hard. And we made it through and to see that quote, as I came home, that we are together. We made it through. Even if it was just simple prayers over FaceTime, that meant a lot to help our ties. And I do want to add that during that year of prep, I could feel Satan just trying to rip us apart because he knew we were going to do something really hard. And if he could get us apart, then he could ruin it. And so I just felt all the things attacking us and I think prayer helped us fort those temptations off.
MJ: I'm sure it did. Another thing that you shared that I really loved was a quote you said that your cousin had sent to you. And it said, "For everything you've missed in life, you have gained something else." I don't have kids but I couldn't help but think, how many things did you feel like you were missing out on in your daughter's lives during that period of time? How many things just in regular individual life did you feel like you were missing out on? But you then wrote, "That rings so true to us. In the last 18 months that we've had Abram with us, we have gained far more than we have ever missed." Marilee, what were some of the things that you felt like you were missing out on and what did you feel like you gained?
MK: So Abram, for the years leading up to the transplant, he couldn't go out or to church or he couldn't be in public places because of his ability to catch sickness and not fight it off. So we missed church, we missed family events, we missed Halloween parties, we missed all the big things and it was usually splitting up our family. So Devon would take some of the kids to some things, and I would stay home with Abram or vice versa. And while I was in Seattle I missed my daughter's first ballet recital. I missed preschool graduation. Dumb little things that meant a lot. I missed a nephew's baptism. I didn't miss anything crazy, but it was mostly just day to day, being there, pick up carpool or just giving them a hug. And I think that was one of the hardest parts as a mother was having to choose. I have to be with Abram and trust that God will fill in the gaps for my other kids. But most of the things that I did miss were so temporal and superficial. A bank account, a large bank account we missed. The things that we gained are just incomparable in a way that I don't have words for. I gained a testimony of the reality of our Savior and angels. Angels on both sides of the veil, swooping in and lifting us up. And it was really powerful.
MJ: Thank you. Another thing that touched me when I heard you speak was you acknowledged the fact that sometimes stories like these don't have as happy of an ending. And I think that that is so important to talk about. And I'm sure over that period of time as you were preparing, you have to prepare yourself for "what if this doesn't have the kind of ending that we want?" And there's not the miracle that we hope for and pray for and endure for. What have you learned about seemingly unanswered prayers and God's love for us even when the miracle that we are living for doesn't come?
MK: There were a couple of things that God prepared for me to see and witness. A month before we left for Seattle, we had a next-door neighbor's grandson who was diagnosed with leukemia, and the same exact treatment, chemo, all of the same things that Abram was going through. And he didn't live. Sweet little five-year-old boy. And I think seeing them grieve and suffer and go through that hardship while I was going through mine gave me comfort that that was their miracle. That they made it through a different sort of story. And while I was in Seattle, I came across this book "Faith is Not Blind" by the Hafens, who have been on this podcast. And there was a quote at the end of that just sang to me, and it says, “For every Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who are saved from the flames, an Abinadi is allowed to burn. For every wayward Alma the Younger that is brought to the light from a pleading, faithful parent, a Laman and Lemuel continue to stray. For every 2,000 stripling warriors who leave the battle with nothing more than wounds, 1,005 are left to be slain by the sword. For every Ammon who brings thousands of souls to repentance, a Mormon and Moroni labor all the days of their life and never see the fruits of their labor. For every blind to see, deaf to hear, and lame to walk, the experience of unfathomable suffering awaits in Gethsemane. However . . . For every Abinadi who is burned, sometimes an Alma takes the doctrine to heart and begins a lifetime in service to God. For every 1,005 who are left to be slain, sometimes we see ‘the Lord worketh in man ways to the salvation of his people’ as more souls are brought to repentance than the number who perished (Alma 24:27). For every ‘thy will be done’ in submission to the agony of Gethsemane, there is a prayer too beautiful to be recorded, the blessing of children one by one, angels descending from the opened heavens, and tears streaming down the face from One who can finally declare full joy.” I just loved that contradiction in our life with our next-door neighbor and Abram that the miracles are there, regardless of the outcome. Our preschool teacher who helped my daughter so much while I was away, lost her son as well to a blood cancer. And she told me before she left, "We have faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ, not in the outcome." And I think that sums it all up. We know he is our Savior, and he will save us, and we can trust everything else will work out.
MJ: I love that. And I love that the preschool teacher was the one to tell you that because I think we're all placed in each other's lives for little reminders along the way. And I think those are oftentimes the most powerful. Another thing that kind of became your slogan throughout all of this was "All is well." What has that phrase come to mean to you, Marilee?
MK: Yeah, I heard that hymn through Elder Holland's talk. He shares a story of a missionary who was struggling and was trying to meet someone. And he ran through a park in Chicago. He was from St. George, was traveling far away, and he could hear the hymn ringing, singing "all is well, all is well." And I was listening to it in that year before transplant and I just remember scrubbing my kitchen floor and it just hit me so hard that all is well. What else do we have to worry about? What else is there to be sad for or fear or hurt about? We have a Savior who loves us. And he made it all right. It just really became my mantra. I mean, the words of that hymn are very powerful. And as you think of the saints, it was a lifeline throughout. "Should we die before our journey's through, all is well, all is well." And sang it to Abram as we rocked him to sleep in his crib and in the hospital we sang it as a family. And I think it just is such an expression of faith that we trust Him, and that we know He can make it all right.
MJ: I love that after Copeland donated his bone marrow, he was able to be in the room when Abram received his bone marrow. What was that like for you, as a mom, to watch that?
MK: Yeah, it was sweet. They harvest the blood, and then they clean it and purify and siphon it, and then they put it in. Abram had a central line directly to his heart. And so they take this bag, actually we were taking pictures with it, it's just bright red, it's blood, but marrow is brighter. And it's this tiny bag that probably cost a million dollars to make, all the costs of medical expenses. And we're holding it, we're taking pictures, and Abram swiped at it, and it literally fell on the floor and I was like what if this doesn't work! But we hung it up and they started the infusion. It was so sweet. They brought the whole team in, and they sang Happy Birthday to Abram. And they call it "happy transplant day." But it's a new birthday, he's getting new blood, he's gonna have a new DNA, it's a new start. And then they press go. And they sat on the crib together, Abram and Copeland and I mean, Abram will never remember this and Copeland will, but it was really powerful, a sacred time to watch his perfect blood being infused into Abram and giving him a second shot at life.
MJ: I have two more questions before we wrap up, but before we get to those, can you give people an update on how Abram's doing now?
MK: Yes, sorry if I hadn't. So he stayed in for 50 days in the hospital. Then you have to stay out, right next door at a Ronald McDonald House for 50 days. And he's going to the hospital all the time, every second for everything. And then after "the hundred-day journey," they call it, they can send you home. So we're on day like 120. It still feels very fresh. He's doing great. It's a miracle. We got a blessing from Elder Holland through another series of miracles. And he said, "I encourage you to take every advantage of medical miracles. And remember that Abram is completely and utterly in the hands of the Savior and to trust Him." And we're home. He's healthy. He's not out of the woods, it's a long journey. I think it takes a year or two for your whole body to reconstitute that new marrow but two steps forward, one step back, but nothing we can complain about. So grateful.
MJ: I'm so glad. The last post that you wrote before you left the hospital, it was the last night after you had been in there for days, and you said "And just like that, I sat at that same window I've sat at every single day for the past however long and watch the sun go down on our last night in the hospital with a water show of tears. It went down on one of the most refining and defining experiences of our lives. It's not over and ye,t a bit of it is, and I feel like I have a whole new soul inside this body of mine, just as Abram has a whole new blood inside those bones of his. We toiled and labored and tried not to fear, we suffered and struggled and tried not to despair. We found help and tried to trust Him who was our shadow by day and our pillar by night, leading us through roads we didn't know we could walk. And though it hurt deeper than we imagined, He was there, He got us through. 'This too shall pass' and here it was passing. These are the lessons we came to earth to learn, the battles we promised to fight." First of all, I don't think you could have said that any more beautifully, but Marilee as you look back on this now, why are you grateful for this experience?
MK: This experience has humbled me, brought me to my knees, in more ways than any experience of our lives. And that humility and need is something I will never be able to express gratitude enough for, to be in a spot where I can't make it without Him. And to be able to watch my son go through this, one with such willingness and then to see one suffer, to see our little boy suffer in such torturous ways, as a parent, has given me a lot. So many insights to our Savior and our Heavenly Parents who gave their son to suffer for us and love us. I can't articulate it well, but I came to love Abram, as a mom, because he was saved and needed saving and I think of our Heavenly Parents who have this son, who is perfect and they know he's going to do it and they know he's going to be awesome and then to look at us, like I look at Abram, and realize he needs saving. He's not going to make it. And there's just such a love that I can't explain for him. For fighting and for being saved by his older brother. So I'm grateful for this experience for a lot of reasons. But mostly, I am grateful that it has drawn me closer to my Savior. One of the blessings I received said, "There is a legion of angels around you. The Savior has prepared a legion of angels around you to get you through this," and I could feel Him at the head of that just helping us every step of the way. So, I'm just so grateful.
MJ: Thank you so much. Thank you for being willing to share this. I know that it's not an easy thing to share sacred experiences and things that are so close to our hearts, but I do believe that they bless people and that this will bless people's lives. So thank you. Thank you so much. My last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
MK: At one point in Abram's journey, when we actually started chemo, they push the button and you watch it start infusing into his body knowing the havoc that it's going to wreak and knowing the numbers are just going to keep going down. His levels had to get all the way to zero. And at one point when they were at I think 200, he caught a cold. And when you don't have an immune system and you catch a cold, it's deadly. And all the doctors are coming in, they're kind of scrambling and it was really frantic. They were trying to figure out what do we do? It was a simple rhinovirus, the common cold. They didn't know, "should we stop, should we wait? What do you think?" And they consulted and talked and they talked to us about it. And it was such a pivotal moment because his levels would have hit zero no matter what. And if we had waited, they would have hit zero and we would have been waiting at zero. And you can't go back, there was no reversing it. That point of almost no return where we had committed to the chemo and Abram couldn't go back. He was all in. This is his shot and this was his one chance, we couldn't redo it. And I think that moment has meant a lot to me, where we decided to just keep going forward, where we hit the big roadblock, and you don't know how it's gonna turn out, but you're already in it. And you're all in and you don't go back and you don't second guess and you can't just stay. There's no steady, even, middle ground. You have to just march forward. That experience with Abram has taught me a lot about being all in. He was all in, and I'm so grateful that they didn't pause or wait, and I hope in my life I can be all in. For me, being all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is just trusting Him. Believing that He has the answers that I need, and believing that He can make everything right in the next life. All that is unfair about life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And being all in is committing 100% to whatever He asks me to do, whether that's take my son to get a bone marrow transplant or share his story, or whatever He asks us to do, to do it. To have faith and being all in means never giving up. There were lots of moments where it would have been easier to just throw in the towel, but we're here on Earth. This is our one shot to try it out and do it and so being all in is diving in headfirst and embracing all that comes with that. The good and the messy and the miracles and blessings.
MJ: Thank you so much. You're wonderful. Thank you.
MK: Thank you.
MJ: We are so grateful to Marilee Killpack for sharing her family's journey on this week's episode of "All In." You can follow along with Marilee's entire experience on her Instagram which is just @marileekillpack. And if you've enjoyed hearing Marilee's story and love a great story in general, I'd like to personally invite you to check out our LDS Living storytelling podcast "This is the Gospel." Be sure not to miss the episode titled "Culture Shock" to hear our wonderful sound guy, Derek Campbell, share his story. "This Is the Gospel" has plenty of stories to keep you busy until we're back with you again next week. We'll see you then.