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Patient Care: Donor Profile

Annual Report - 2006-2007

Thanks for the Extra Time

By Sarah Watson

Terry Sonnevil

Terry Sonnevil of Decatur, Mich., couldn’t be more grateful for the care her husband, Max, received at M. D. Anderson.

So thankful, in fact, that she established the Max E. Sonnevil Jr. Memorial Fund for Leukemia Research through a $1 million gift annuity.

She credits Emil J Freireich, M.D., professor of medicine in the Department of Leukemia and director of Special Medical Education Programs at M. D. Anderson, with extending his life and “giving our five grandchildren a chance to know their grandfather.”

Her husband was only 35 years old when he was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia in 1983.

“Initially, Max was given three months and told to ‘go home and get his life in order,’” Sonnevil says. Instead the couple set out to find help, sending a resume on his condition to 50 universities and research institutions throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

“There was no Internet back then to help us access the information we have today,” Sonnevil recalls. “We were on our own.”

One hundred letters and phone calls later, they found hope at M. D. Anderson.

Max Sonnevil became one of the first patients to undergo pioneering treatments with both human and synthetic forms of interferon, a powerful bioimmunotherapy drug used to treat some cancers.

Thanks to Freireich and his team, Max Sonnevil lived an additional 21 years before succumbing to the disease at age 58. “Every time Max’s leukemia flared up or a trial drug wasn’t performing as expected, Dr. Freireich had something else up his sleeve that bought him more time.”

Sonnevil announced the memorial fund in a letter to Freireich read by Michael Keating, M.D., professor in the Department of Leukemia, at a celebration of Freireich’s 80th birthday last year.

Her intent to support research that may help other leukemia patients may be best expressed in one simple sentence — “Thank you for giving us the extra time to be with the man we loved.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center