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Ill professor given second chance at life

December 6, 2007

It just didn’t make sense to Salma Atroon.

The wife of leukemia-stricken Kamal Adam, UW-River Falls assistant professor of agricultural engineering technology, could not wrap her head around the news that Adam’s doctor at United Hospital in St. Paul had shared with the couple: that a bone marrow tissue match had not been found among Adam’s father and eight siblings in Sudan and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the doctor said, they would have to consider other options.

Atroon said she found it hard to accept the doctor’s prognosis.

“With [eight] siblings, when they tell you there is no match, there must be something wrong,” she said.

The mother of three’s uncertainty drove her to contact the doctor in Sudan who had run the tests on Adam’s family. She convinced him to look at the results again.

“I just said, ‘Please, I am desperate,’” Atroon said.

Thanks to his wife’s suspicions, Adam can watch his three sons mature into adulthood. He will be able to fulfill his dreams of going fishing and deer hunting. And he can look forward to returning to the classroom at UWRF next fall. Almost two months after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, a bone marrow tissue match has been found for Adam. Arrangements are being made to obtain visas for his sister Tahani Mohamed Adam and her young son to fly to the United States by the end of the month.

Finding out that her husband would survive was a dream come true for Atroon.

“It was a dream for me for a long, long time,” she said. “It was a shock.”

Adam said that after nearly two months of living with cancer, the positive news gave him a much needed peace of mind.

“I was very pleased, of course,” he said. “That was a really big relief.”

Lisa Owens, College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences dean’s assistant, has worked closely with the Adam family since the cancer diagnosis. 

“They’re such a good family and they’ve gone through so much,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have this happen.”

Adam said that his bone marrow transplant surgery will hopefully take place before the end of December at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“After they do the bone marrow transplant, they have to monitor me for three months,” he said. “So it’s a very long process.”

He plans on spending the next summer recuperating before returning to his duties as assistant professor at UWRF next fall. He said he misses interacting with his students in the agricultural engineering technology department.

“I love teaching, educating students and getting feedback from them, grading homework and exams,” he said.

There’s no place like home
The 47-year-old returned home to River Falls a week before Thanksgiving. The assistant professor is considerably thinner since he last set foot on the UWRF campus in October. In addition to causing drastic weight loss, rounds of chemotherapy have also left him with a fungal infection on his right foot, which is covered by a white bandage.

Limiting his mobile ability, the infection has left Adam housebound. He spends his days on a plush leather maroon couch in his living room, watching television and browsing through newspapers and books.

“This has become my friend,” he said, patting the couch.

A practicing Muslim, Adam has taken to reading the Koran daily.

“It gives you some comfort,” he said.

The white kufi skull cap he dons is physical evidence of his religious conviction. It is this conviction that allows Adam to cast his illness in a positive light.

“I don’t call it a curse on me because I’m a person of faith,” Adam said. “I consider it a test from God.”

The assistant professor said he looks forward to visiting students and faculty in CAFES once his foot heals. He teared up when recalling the support that the CAFES community has given to him and his family, from delivering meals to his family while he was in the hospital to donating frequent flyer miles to help his sister fly over for the bone marrow transplant surgery.

“That is amazing,” he said. “I can’t expect people to be that kind and that good.”

He also praised his neighbors, who have started a fund at First National Bank in River Falls to cover his medical costs and helped Atroon take care of their three children.

“They are great,” he said. “I can’t really thank them enough.”

Although he said he gets bored from time to time, Adam expressed contentment at being among his loved ones.

“Nothing like home,” he said with a smile. “It feels great to be home with the family and with the kids.”