Date: July 3, 2008
by Radha Venkat
Palasena Chidambar Venkat, husband, father, brother and patient advocate, died at the University of Minnesota Fairview Hospital on the afternoon of Monday, June 23rd 2008 from complications of a stem cell transplant to cure his Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. He was 59.
He was born in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on February 7th, 1949. He was raised by his paternal grandparents in Bangalore, India. He attended IIT Madras and was awarded his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1971. There, he met a young Chemistry student named Chaya Rao during his junior year and resolved to follow her to the U.S., where she would be attending graduate school at the University of Michigan.
My parents, Chaya and P. C., were married in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 12th, 1971. He received his MBA from the University of Michigan in 1973. He worked for several different banking companies over the next three decades, including Citicorp, First Fidelity, Wachovia and Bank of America. His last job before his retirement was as a turnaround specialist at Sales Support Services. The company was successfully sold in 2001.
They retired when they were 51, in the spring of 2001. In June, my father went to India to bring my maternal grandparents to live with them in their new home in Sedona, Arizona. After he returned he noticed a few swollen lymph nodes, initially treated as a “bug” he had picked up overseas. Further testing and consultation brought a devastating diagnosis: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL).
As his disease progressed over the next several years, he and my mother decided to do everything within their power to battle this cancer, both for themselves and for the broader patient community. They set up CLLTopics.org, a patient education and advocacy web site, in 2002. It quickly became a major force in the patient community. The non-profit was incorporated the next year, and aimed to raise funds to support important clinical trials in CLL research. As of the end of 2007, they had raised over $310,000 and funded four clinical trials with the Mayo Clinic, the Hutch, U. VA and Royal Bournemouth Hospital.
In the spring of 2008, he and my mother decided that an elective cord blood stem cell transplant was the best option for a cure to his very aggressive CLL. They went to the Bone Marrow Transplant center at the University of Minnesota Fairview Hospital. Therapy was initiated on March 20th, and the transplant was given to him on March 26th. He had reached full engraftment, and it appeared that his CLL was in abeyance from the effects of graft-versus-leukemia.
In a devastating reversal, what had started as a cough turned into ‘a touch of pneumonia’, which turned into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). He was re-admitted to the hospital on June 14th, and passed away at 4:30pm on June 23rd, 2008 after a terrifyingly fast decline.
My Papa was an immense figure in my world. He was intelligent, he was quirky, and he would give you the shirt off his back. His wit could be punishingly wicked and his personal standards were uncompromising.
He had many passions beyond his advocacy. He was an amateur astronomer and served as the webmaster for the Astronomers of Verde Valley. He was a classical music buff and Vivaldi was his favorite composer. He spent long hours hiking the hills of Sedona, Arizona with his faithful and energetic Australian Shepherd dog, Jasper. He would come home still full of energy, and she would be whupped. He was a well-known figure around his home town, always wearing his Aussie hat, a fashion statement and an acknowledgement of the risks of skin cancer in CLL patients.
He was the first man I ever loved. He brought me roses when I was fifteen and my first boyfriend broke up with me. I will miss him tremendously for the rest of my life.
P. C. is survived by Chaya, his wife of 37 years, his daughter Radha, his brother Raju, his loyal dog Jasper and many friends all over the world.
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Topic: P. C. Venkat, 1949-2008