Freireich and Frei became unlikely partners when they went to work at the National Cancer Institute in 1955. They were opposites in personality, but they were miracle workers on the leukemia ward. At that time the death rate for childhood leukemia was 90%.
Children were bleeding to death. Freireich and Frei were first to do something about the falling levels of platelets in these children. Against resistance, when the NCI’s blood bank refused to give them blood for the necessary transfusions, they sought blood elsewhere. They got the blood, transfused the children and the results were notable.
Freireich and Frei decided that using multiple chemotherapy medications would be more effective than one medication at a time. Again, they were seriously accused of being cruel to children. They went ahead with their idea. They started using a cocktail of four medications. Children began to survive.
Unfortunately, eventually the cancer came back. Next Freireich and Frei decided that they needed to give their chemo cocktail for an entire year. Even though they had been so successful with their innovations, the medical community still renounced the idea. They went ahead with their year long therapy. Children began surviving.
In 1965 Freireich and Frei published Progress and Perspectives in the Chemotherapy of Acute Leukemia. Today the survival rate of childhood leukemia is 90%.
These were two doctors who were passionate about their work and persevered through great criticism and risk to their careers to make incredible changes in the care of children with leukemia. I say thank you. I also say thank you to those doctors, nurses and researchers who today are investing their lives work to find better ways for us to survive and thrive illnesses such as cancer.