Catherine and Gino Sabatini didn’t just write a thank-you note when it came to the health of their son Roman Sabatini. But first, the backstory.
It was back in 2018 when 16-year-old Roman started having headaches, rashes and a lingering cough. At one point during a Colorado ski vacation, he complained of stomach pains. Scared that it was a case of appendicitis, he was rushed him to the emergency room.
But by the spring of 2019, Roman’s conditions only seemed to get worse. So much so that the 17-year-old was taken to Children’s Health’s ER where he not only had a lump in his neck, but a scan showed a dramatic situation — it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including “a mass the size of a fist on top of his heart.”
According to Gino, “We saw this picture of our kid covered from his neck down with nodules of cancer. We thought, ‘How can you have a picture like that and live?’”
The couple went into overdrive to find the best place to tackle the disease.
Relatively new to North Texas, Gino admitted, “Initially, because we’d never heard of Children’s Health and didn’t know anything about it, we wondered if we should drive down to MD Anderson. Should we go to Memphis to St. Jude? Is Children’s Health the best place in the world? Because that’s where we want to be.”
After careful research, it turned out that the Children’s Health’s Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders “stood out for its record and experience in treating Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients.”
The Sabatinis discovered that the Center “routinely treats Hodgkin lymphoma, caring for up to 30 newly diagnosed patients each year. Clinicians have experience in every form of childhood Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma – from the rarest to the most common. And here, patients can receive the most advanced therapies for childhood lymphoma through participation in clinical research.”
Roman and his family embarked on a daunting program that included steroids that made him swollen, caused him to lose his hair and eliminated his senior year of playing defensive lineman on the Highland Park High School football team.
Then, just two days after Christmas 2019, the Sabatinis got a belated gift — Roman’s final scan showed no signs of cancer.
They were overwhelmed with the efforts and personal care provided by the Gill Center’s Dr. Martha Pacheco, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Ruth Anne Herring and the whole staff. At one point, when the couple “offered to buy Ruth Anne dinner in the hospital cafeteria, she turned it down, saying they didn’t need to pay for her meal.”
Catherine and Gino decided that they needed to think outside the box with something big … much bigger … in showing their gratitude.
As Catherine put it, “Someone saves your child’s life — how do you even thank them?”
The Sabatinis decided that since the Gill Center had given them the best Christmas present last year, they would return the favor.
To the amazement of the masked clinicians in a Zoom gathering last week, it was disclosed that the Sabatini family was donating $500,000 matched by the W.P. Carey Foundation to establish “The Dr. Martha Pacheco and Ruth Anne Herring Fund for the Treatment and Research of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”
Catherine said, “To you, Dr. Pacheco and to Ruth Anne, thank you for your understanding of Roman and who he is. You saw that right away. Your straightforwardness in the way you cared for him is what he wanted, and your lightheartedness is what he needed. To all of you at the Gill Center who treat families like us, you are extraordinary, and I’m overwhelmed by what you do.”
Martha responded, “I’m speechless. We’re fortunate to get to do what we do. We’re lucky to get to take care of Roman. Thank you so much. This endowment will make a huge difference.”
Children’s Medical Center Foundation President Brent Christopher admitted, “Watching the shock on the faces of the Gill Cancer Center team at Children’s Health as the Sabatinis announced this gift was like Christmas morning!”
Brent added, “This incredible gift really captures the spirit of the holidays. It celebrates Roman’s return to health and appreciation for what life still has in store for him. It invests in research that will bring hope to children everywhere facing a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And, it generously honors the people who cared for Roman through the darkest days of his own cancer journey. What could be more beautiful?”
As for Roman, he didn’t let the treatments hold him back from his long-term plans. One year after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he graduated from high school and is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin to study petroleum engineering. He plans eventually to move to Argentina to be “an oil man.”
* Photo provided by Children's Health