Advance with MUSC Health

After a Bone Marrow Transplant, 19-Year-Old Fulfills Birthday Wish of Collecting Toys for Kids in Need

Advance With MUSC Health
December 16, 2020
Toys for Tots
Lucas Perdue hugs registered nurse Starr Freedman after presenting, along with MUSC Health, mountains of collected toys to the Marines for Toys for Tots.

Richmond, Va., native Lucas Perdue knew something was wrong when, as a fit 18-year-old with a lifelong dream of becoming a Marine, he found himself breathless after doing only three pull-ups last summer. It was during a bootcamp training session that he also attempted a short run and was unexpectedly overcome with fatigue.

“I had drill instructors yelling in my face wanting me to go faster, and I just couldn't,” he said. “I was literally yards away from the finish line and all I remember was my eyesight going black and I passed out.”

Lucas was only 17 when he enlisted in the Marines. He was 18 by the time he arrived at The Citadel over the summer to quarantine before heading to boot camp at Parris Island. However, before he could make it to his final destination, he was diagnosed at MUSC Health with acute myelogenous leukemia.

His reaction was, as he puts it, “not normal.”

“I was like, ‘All right, so when do I get to go back?’” he said. “I thought, ‘Nothing is going to keep me away from [the Marines], because this has been my dream for so long.’”

Toys for Tots 
Lucas with his care team, friends and family.

His mother, Kat Perdue, who retired from the Marines in 2013, had a decidedly different reaction. But for her, Lucas’s reaction to chemotherapy was even scarier than learning her son had adult leukemia. During five rounds of chemo, Lucas developed a clot on his liver and rashes all over his body. He lost his eyesight due to low blood platelets and a chemo complication called veno-occlusive disease, which gave him a 50-50 chance of living. He bled behind his retinas, and his kidneys began to fail.

“Everyone was worried about him,” Kat said. “The nurses called him their ‘angel baby.’”

After undergoing a bone marrow transplant on Oct. 21, Lucas once again is looking toward the future. Not only is he done with chemo, but he’s also cancer free. He’s staying close to MUSC until 100 days post-op and, even though he may not be where he thought he’d be this Christmas, he’s in the giving spirit.

ART7W HOPE Unit registered nurse Starr Freedman, together with Lucas’s MUSC Health Hollings Cancer Center bone marrow transplant team, organized a Toys for Tots toy drive, a program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The HOPE Unit’s doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and members of Lucas’s marine community gave toys in Lucas’s honor.

“It’s nice to give our patients something to think about and projects to think about to take their minds off what they're going through,” said Freedman.

The best part? Giving to children in need was also Lucas’s birthday wish. On Dec. 8, he celebrated turning 19 by presenting, along with MUSC Health, mountains of collected toys to the Marines for distribution.

Toys for Tots 
Lucas with his mother Kat Perdue.

Capt. Wesley W. Lanier was present for the birthday celebration, noting that they’d received thousands of toys already and would be handing out hundreds a day until Dec. 16. “We’re here to give Lucas support and to let him know we’re here for him,” he said. “And we’re here to give all the less fortunate children in the community a toy to make sure no kid goes without a toy this Christmas.”

Kat expressed gratitude for the “smiles and kindness” shown to her family by the staff of MUSC Health. “I'm so happy that y’all went to school to learn to be nurses because you saved my son so that he can fulfill his dream of being a Marine,” she said, fighting back tears. “And as you see, he's strong here today and he's going to continue to get stronger, and he will never forget the wonderful things you've done. Thank you for giving my son back to me, and I love you.”

As for Lucas, he’s eager to resume his life. At 19, he seems to have it all figured out.

“I'm just hoping I can take all of this kindness and give it back into the world and really just do good for other people, as these people have done good for me,” he said. “I've been very grateful for everything they've done for me and I just want to do the same for other people, so that's my goal — that, and to become a Marine!”

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Advance With MUSC Health

Keywords: Cancer, Patient Story