May 13, 2014
by Todd Oakes
Throughout my battle with leukemia, my dear friends Glen & Alisha Perkins were by my side, providing me with unbelievable support. In gratitude for their help, I would like dedicate the final week of my campaign to them. Likewise, it only makes sense to close my campaign with these two: “Perk” makes a living off closure and Alisha has always been right by his side.
Since his early career, I knew Glen was going to be a dominant pitcher. I still remember watching him pitch back in the spring of 2001 at a Stillwater HS game. As I left the game, I remember thinking to myself, “wow, we have to get this kid!” Glen did end up pitching for the Golden Gophers from 2002-2004, and he dominated at the collegiate level. Every time he took the mound, I was a smart pitching coach and stayed out of his way: I didn’t want to screw things up!
Glen’s collegiate success allowed him to become a first round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in the MLB June draft of 2004. He and Alisha persevered through the subsequent rough Minor League road to make it to the top, and he has become a dominant pitcher in the big leagues. As a testament to his success, Perk was named to the 2013 MLB All-Star game, and he is off to a great start to the 2014 season as the current Twin’s closer. Also, Glen was kind enough to honor me with one of his commemorative All-Star game jerseys. Hands down, it is one of the most special gifts I have ever received.
Over the years, Perk and I have become good friends: our relationship has grown from player-to-coach, friend-to-friend, to man-to-man. It has been similarly rewarding for me to see him transform into the amazing man he is today. His maturation and growth into a man of faith, a dedicated husband and father, an established big league pitcher, and a man of principle has been an exciting journey. Perk’s profound dedication to principle and family was especially evident recently in the terms of his extended contract with the Twins. He took arguably a lot less money than he could have received on the free agent market, not wanting to uproot his family. I greatly respect his unselfishness, and equally respect the man he has become.
Alisha is a similarly amazing individual. As a true sweetheart, her profound character has extended beyond raising two very adorable daughters. With regards to my battle, I will be forever grateful for the book she gave me during my time in the hospital. “Plan B” gave me great insight and perspective into the adversity I was facing. She has been equally helpful in her devotion to the non-profit world as well having fundraised for many charities and supported multiple non-profit organizations like LLS with Glen. Alisha has been actively involved with the LLS Team-In-Training program and ran a Nike women's half marathon benefitting LLS and T.O. in the fall of 2012. From that race alone, Alisha raised more than $10,000 for LLS and blood cancer research. Wow, what a gal!
Coming full circle, it becomes quite clear why I find it fitting for Perk and Alisha to help me close out this campaign. I was a starting pitcher most of my career, and I need the closer to seal the deal and bring home the victory. Thanks for all your love, support, and prayers Glen & Alisha. I could not have done this without you!
May 06, 2014
by Todd Oakes
I would like to dedicate this week to my primary care doctor at the BMT clinic, Dr. Erica Warlick.
I first met Dr. Warlick in June of 2012 after being diagnosed with AML. As you can imagine, living in a hospital with a rotating set of doctors really made my experience lonely and difficult the first couple of weeks. However, Dr. Warlick made it feel otherwise. I will never forget the afternoon we met or our initial conversation – it was like an angel, sent from God, had entered my life to take care of me through the rough patches ahead. She sat down on the ledge of the window sill and took the time to really get to know me. We spoke about my background, my family, my interests, my concerns. Dr. Warlick had then and continues to treat me as if I am her only patient, even though she simultaneously cares for a great many others. Her “bedside manner” was truly a comfort and a blessing, and it continues to serve as a powerful asset for me.
As our initial conversation progressed, I grew to realize that our meeting was not merely by chance but by divine intervention. She asked where I was from and I continued to tell her about my upbringing in Spring Grove, MN. Amazingly, she replied, “Oh year, Spring Grove pop”. (The pop production and bottling company still exists today, developing some of the best homemade soda you will ever taste!). She then proceeded to tell me that she was born and raised in Rushford MN - a similarly small community some 25 miles from Spring Grove. It was then that I began to realize our meeting was divine intervention and a part of God’s plan. Through further conversation, we concluded that her God Mother (Lila Jameson) is a distant relative of my Mother-In-Law. At that point, I was convinced our meeting was too good to be true – it simply had to be divine intervention.
Ever since our first conversation, I have had nothing but complete confidence and trust in Dr. Warlick's care and expertise. Her actions have provided a great amount of peace and comfort for my family and me throughout my battle and recovery from AML. I cannot begin to explain the blessing she has been to me the past two years.
I was honored to have her throw out the first pitch at a Gopher baseball game last spring. Despite being a cold, blustery spring day, she, her family and her parents showed up. Dr. Warlick was a real trooper that day - she persevered through the poor weather and stood on the mound at our new Siebert Field. I caught that first pitch with a great feeling of gratitude and humbleness. I'll never forget it . . .
I continue to see her on a monthly basis at the BMT clinic for regular blood tests and appointments. At each appointment, I eagerly await her presence. I listen for the "click, click, click" of her heels, I wait to see the grand smile on her face as she walks into the room. She continues to provide me with confidence, trust, and hope for a full recovery.
It is with full confidence that I state Dr. Warlick is truly an angel from God. I am eternally grateful for her medical background, her personality, and the blessing she is to both me and the hundreds of other patients she has and will grace with her care. She is a tremendous asset to the UMMC Fairview.
I humbly dedicate Week 9 of this fundraising campaign to Dr. Erica Warlick. I am both motivated and inspired to finish this campaign strong so that as much money as possible can be donated to amazing research doctors like Dr. Warlick. With these funds, we can ensure that other patients will receive both the wonderful medical attention and HOPE I was so lucky to have been given.
Apr 29, 2014
by Todd Oakes
I would like to dedicate this week to my 11 year-old, southern California friend Ryan Verkaik. He currently battles Dyskeratosis Congenita, a rare genetic disorder that affects the bone marrow and impairs the body’s ability to produce blood cells. It reportedly strikes one in 1 million people, and it took the life of Ryan’s little brother, Tyler, at 2 ½ years of age after complications to a bone marrow transplant. Ryan received a bone marrow transplant as well last summer here in Minnesota at the Children’s Amplantz Hospital.
Last summer before his transplant, I had the great pleasure of meeting Ryan and his parents, Colleen and Michael. I had the amazing opportunity to spend an afternoon with them at Siebert Field on the U of M campus, during which I played catch with Ryan and gave him a free pitching lesson. I have already put him on our future recruiting list because of his great attitude and courage. He is one of the bravest young men I have ever met and I will never forget my afternoon with him.
I also had the privilege of spending time with Colleen and Michael and they are undoubtedly a set of All-Star parents who continue to persevere through the battle with their son.
In April of 2013, Ryan got to spend an afternoon on the field with the Anaheim Angels and meet some of the MLB’s best players, including Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout, among other. In his nightstand drawer at home, Ryan has his Bible, its inside cover newly inscribed with "God Bless" - from Pujols and "My family will pray for yours" - from Josh Hamilton.
"That was exactly the best day of my life," Ryan said, his blue eyes beaming.
Ryan has been back in California the past 6 months. I continue to hope and pray for his full recovery, along with the opportunity for him to go to school and play some baseball like all kids his age.
It is not fair that Ryan - like many children - has to battle a terrible disease that we struggle to understand. His story serves as an inspiration to both live life to its fullest and to motivate many, especially me, to relentlessly fundraise for a blood cancer cure. It’s all about giving HOPE to others – like Ryan.
In my humble opinion, Ryan Verkaik should be the "Man of the Year" instead of the candidates.
I love you Ryan!
Apr 22, 2014
by Todd Oakes
I would like to dedicate week 7 of this fund raising campaign to the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC), Fairview Hospital, and the Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic (BMT).
I spent a total of 80 days at the UMMC Fairview Hospital during the summer and fall of 2012. The first 50 were spent on the 7th floor where blood cancer patients took occupancy. Throughout that time, I grew to realize the passion and excellence of the team of doctors, nurses, assistants, and resource people who took care of me. I will never forget the Friday morning I was admitted, especially not the wonderful nurse, Kay, who took care of me that first weekend. She was such an angel to both my family and I and to all her patients, and I think we got along so well because she knew so very little about sports and baseball. Kay was just one of the many amazing people on the team, though. I would like to mention the following people in gratitude for their efforts: my all female and multinational doctoral team of Warlick, Aurora, and Bachnova, who I referred to as the “three musketeers, a true sweetheart by the name of Theresa, Becky “Boop”, my night nurse Michael, the front desk guy and baseball loving Mike, Cathy – little Cathy, the other and always smiling Kathy, giggling Julie, Mariano Rivera’s nearly exact twin Jeb, the many nursing assistants who performed the “grunt work” daily, my physical therapy gal Lyndsey who slowly whipped me back in shape to be able to do carioca and wind sprints before my departure, Chaplain Bill who was kind enough to frequently share Bible verses and prayers, and many others. There were just so many wonderful, caring people who devoted their lives to saving others. I cannot thank them all enough!
The latter 30 days was spent on the 4th floor - the transplant floor - during September and October that fall. Similar to my first 50, I was blessed to be taken care of by the following nurses and nursing assistants: Fadumo, Johnashea, Hyen, Taura, Toni, Laura, Megan, Julie, Heidi, Bonni, Liz, Betty, Craig, Jester, Cassi, Tammy, Comfort, Andrea, Dallas, Cathy, Nichole, Mary, Kelly, Annie, Lisa. And then there was Prince, or as others preferred to call him, “Prince Charles”. What a great young man. He epitomized the American Dream as an immigrant from Liberia who came to the US with his wife, started a family, and went to college. Prince was such a comfort during my stay on the 4th floor. Whether it be his perpetually interesting stories about his past or growing faith, his constant dropping by to see if I wanted anything, or his love for the mini Twix bars I had in my snack bin, Prince exemplified why I am so thankful for my all my caregivers. They truly served me well through my transplant procedure and my subsequent recovery.
I still make monthly visits to the BMT Clinic for routine blood tests and occasional biopsies, but I do so much less frequently as my post-transplant symptoms have subsided. Regardless, every time I visit, I am humbled as I see patients go through what I once had to endure; I always feel for them as I recall my own struggles. Despite such memories, I then remember how amazing the BMT staff is and feel confident that they are being treated by the best. With this in mind, it is again important to mention the remainder of the staff who helped me during my time there. A big thank you goes out to Trinidad and Mai who ran the front desk, to Bridget, the nurse coordinator who called in my prescription refills, and to the other wonderful group of nurses who routinely performed their duties with excellence.
Every time I remember the amazing staff that was gracious enough to dedicate their lives to saving mine and others, my heart fills with gratitude. And for that, I cannot thank you all enough. To the fantastic staff at UMMC, Fairview Hospital, and the BMT clinic, your help means more to me and other patients than you will ever know!
Apr 15, 2014
by Todd Oakes
I was born and raised in a small, rural family town of 1300 called Spring Grove, MN. My family lived very modestly and was not exposed to the same luxuries we enjoy today. I often wonder how my parents managed to simultaneously raise 7 children and make ends meet. Sure, we were like every other average family in town – we all had clothes to wear and food to eat. However, there certainly wasn’t a lot of discretionary income to go around. Despite this, I am very grateful for my upbringing. It has given me a greater appreciation for my current lifestyle, and more importantly, for the sacrifices my parents made for us.
After a long, hard fought battle, my mother passed away from lymphoma in November of 2007. Watching her health decline throughout her battle was very difficult. Thankfully though, she lived a high quality life during her battle and we were able to spend quality time with her. My mom personified a simple, humble, and caring personality that also wonderfully managed to raise her children and take care of the house. I still hold fond memories of her weekend motherly duties. Saturdays involved housecleaning with my siblings and I performing various household tasks. A cake or chocolate chip cookies was also baked during that time. Saturday nights involved bathing and Sunday School preparation, accompanied by the Lawrence Welk show playing on the monochrome television. Sundays were just as beloved. After church, we always held the week’s main meal - I can still taste the chicken, the pot roast, the real mashed potatoes and gravy, and the vegetables she raised in her garden. And we typically spent Sunday afternoons visiting one of her sibling’s farms outside of town where we had the opportunity to play with our cousins and help with chores. Mom loved to garden; she canned and jarred an awesome dill pickle. And she loved her flower beds, especially her many varieties of Iris's. Boy, did she have beautiful flower gardens.
I often fondly think about all the time she spent cleaning, cooking, sewing, washing clothes, and taking care of her gardens and tending to all the family needs - she was a true Mom!
My Dad passed away in October of 1994 from a heart attack and had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was the bread winner of the family and had a couple different service station businesses in town. He co-owned a Skelly station just across the street from the school and then moved to the other side of town where he owned a Mobil station for many years. My brothers were much more of the "gear head and grease monkey" type than myself as they worked for my dad at different points throughout our childhood. However, despite being far more into sports, I still spent time at the station as a youngster. I would maybe sweep the floor for him or play in the jeep, or sometimes I would get a 10 cent bottle of Spring Grove pop out of his pop machine. This all occurred back when gas stations were less about pumping gas and more about being service stations. You pulled in and got waited on: gas was pumped for you, the windows were washed, the oil, washer fluid and tire pressure were all checked. Basically, you received the full treatment and never had to leave the car. And you had better not be in a hurry because employee "Toad" (his nickname) just had to shoot the shit with you, likely involving his latest joke. Dad would usually take 2-3 coffee breaks a day and loved to socialize at the local coffee shop. He would then check with Mom for the grocery list and stop at IGA before coming home. I remember how he’d often return from work in his greasy clothes, grab the catcher's mitt and we would go in the back yard and play catch. Unfortunately, this routine leveled off as I got older and started throwing the old fastball a little too firm for him.
I have some truly great memories of growing up in that small town, in the modest home where life seemed far simpler than it is today. I wouldn't trade my childhood upbringing for anything. Mom and Dad were simple, humble, caring people that taught us the important qualities of life: a strong work ethic, positive attitude, humbleness, and to have a heart filled with gratitude for what we had as a family.
I miss them, I love them, and I'm grateful to them for being Mom and Dad!