Grand Ledge principal recovering after stem cell transplant

Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal

GRAND LEDGE - It was bitter cold and cloudy Tuesday, but that didn't stop Julie Taylor from relishing every second of her time with an old friend.

Herman, Taylor's horse, is 31 years old. She hadn't stroked his fur in six weeks since receiving a stem cell transplant to save her life Jan. 31. Her visit with him came only after Taylor's Ann Arbor doctor finally gave her permission to go see, and pet, Herman.

Wearing a mask and gloves to protect her compromised immune system didn't hinder their emotional reunion, Taylor, 57, said.

"It was very tearful," she said. "Happy tears. I've been concerned about him, because he's older. He's just kind of my buddy."

The long-time Grand Ledge Public Schools principal was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare cancer of the bone marrow, last September.

Julie Taylor, principal at Hayes Middle School in Grand Ledge talks with a staff member in the hallway Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Taylor received a stem cell transplant at the end of January, and is recovering.

Taylor's body is accepting the transplanted stem cells, tests show, and she's grateful in spite of a burst pipe that derailed her plans to recover in her own home.

Unexpected challenges

Taylor started treatment last fall, but kept working at Hayes Middle School until late December. She shared news of her cancer with students, staff and the community. They, in turn, rallied around her.

By the time Taylor was matched with a stem cell donor in the United Kingdom, and had checked into the hospital for intense chemotherapy in late January, more than $10,000 had been raised online to help with her recovery. 

Some of the money helped David Taylor, her husband, prepare their Eaton Rapids' home for her return. It had to be sterilized to ensure a safe environment for her recovery. Carpets were shampooed, walls, ceilings and bedding washed and air ducts were cleaned. A special water system was installed.

When Taylor left for the transplant their home was in the best shape it could be for her return.

"Literally, when we got in the car to leave I said, 'I feel like everything is done. When we get home there will be nothing to worry about,'" Taylor said.

Then a polar vortex struck.

The day after Taylor's transplant her son Nicholas called with the news. Extreme temperatures caused a pipe in the couple's attic to burst while both were in Ann Arbor and no one was at home. Nicholas discovered the damage when he went to check on the house.

"Water was just pouring through the ceiling," Taylor said. "There was standing water. One of my cupboards was actually starting to pull off the wall, the wood floors had warped. It was devastating. Everything that we had done, we'd have to redo."

The Taylor family adjusted as quickly as they could. Nicholas and his family sterilized their own home, just a few miles from his parents.  

Julie and David Taylor celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and Valentine's Day during her month-long hospital stay.

"Hundreds" of get-well cards and creations from students and staff at Hayes Middle School kept them company. Taylor hung a paper chain filled with encouraging notes from her students on the wall in her hospital room, and smiled as she looked at everything she received.

"I told Dave, it's my mission to read every one of the cards," Taylor said.

A place to come home to

After leaving the hospital, Taylor said she was simply grateful to have family to stay with.

"It's been nice to have someplace to come home to," she said. "I didn't realize how much I'd appreciate being out of the hospital."

Taylor makes weekly trips to Ann Arbor for tests and assessments of her progress. Family members have begun repairs at her house, doing much of the work themselves, and Taylor was able to visit and take in the damage first hand.

Daughter Danielle Jahnke said her mother rides a stationary bike every morning, sometimes pedaling as much as six miles.

She is doing well, Jahnke said, although the home repairs have been "an added stress."

"I think she was really kind of heartbroken by the stuff that needed to be done," she said.

Taylor said family hope to have their home repaired and ready for her by this summer. 

She hopes to be back at work at Hayes Middle School within a year of the transplant, and misses its students and staff, but said these days her recovery has to come first.

In the meantime, she revels in the small things — feeling well enough to cook a meal for family, spending time with friends who've come to visit, making the occasional trip to the store.

"I feel very fortunate," Taylor said. "It just makes you feel grateful."

Fundraiser for Julie Taylor

People can donate to an online fundraiser to help with Julie Taylor's recovery at https://www.gofundme.com/julie-taylor039s-myelofibrosis-fight . The family posts updates regarding her recovery to the site.


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Contact Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.