Meredith Bertoni, a Clinical Research Coordinator at Dana-Farber working in the Center for Prevention of Progression for Hematologic Malignancies, is also the proud granddaughter of the late Al Wahlers, whom she called “Dah” before he passed away in 2020 at the age of 87, due to complications unrelated to his journey with cancer.
Al was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1997, and came straight to Dana-Farber at the recommendation of his daughter, Meredith’s mother, who was working in the Institute’s Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at the time. He was soon under the care of Ken Anderson, MD, Kraft Family Professor of Medicine and Program Director of the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center and LeBow Institute for Myeloma Therapeutics. Al quickly formed a “Dana-Farber family” with Dr. Anderson and the rest of his care team, but most notably with Katie Murphy, BSN, RN. The winter after his diagnosis, in 1998, Meredith was born, and Katie remembers this time in Al’s life fondly, from the proud stories he shared as his first granddaughter joined the family and made her way through all life’s milestones.
“When I started caring for Al, I was just starting out in my career and in my own young adult life,” Katie remembers. “Al saw me through three pregnancies and rejoiced with me as my family grew.”
Al and Katie developed a special relationship over the many years of his treatment at Dana-Farber. Children were born, laughs and Christmas cards were exchanged, and milestones in both of their lives were cherished in the stories they shared with one another. Then, in 2011, Al was diagnosed with leukemia after becoming anemic; luckily, Katie was able to continue on as his nurse. The laughs and life stories continued to flow between them over the 21 total years that Al was cared for at “The Farber,” as he affectionately called the Institute, before he ultimately passed away.
Meredith, now grown and pursuing a Masters of Public Health, was inspired by Al to connect her passion for preventative health care measures with a disease that knows no boundaries: cancer. She landed at Dana-Farber in 2021, less than a year after her grandfather passed away, in a role helping to coordinate clinical trials for multiple myeloma patients just like him. Soon after her arrival, Meredith reached out to Katie, meeting for the first time a beloved figure she quite literally felt like she had known her entire life. And for Katie, the feeling was mutual.
“I got a wonderful email one day from Al’s granddaughter, Meredith,” Katie recalls. “She let me know that she was now working here. We set up a time to meet and it was one of the highlights of my career!” Both with tears in their eyes and masks on their faces, they shared a quick hug outdoors once COVID precautions permitted.
From Meredith’s perspective, she has no doubt that Al, her “Dah,” was a huge part of creating this “full-circle” moment, and she feels it is a privilege to be a small part of the groundbreaking advancements in research, care and technology that occur daily at the Institute. She adds, “Dah is definitely smiling down on us, as we try to defy cancer one patient at a time.”
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