Defiant Furtado fighting leukaemia
If you've missed Norman Furtado on the greens at Mid Ocean, well, he's been busy.
The 59-year-old has been in and out of hospital for the past two years, battling a rare form of leukaemia.
He's lucky to be alive.
His wife Lynn dragged him to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in 2014 after she noticed bruises on his skin. Tests found 93 per cent of his bone marrow was compromised. Without immediate action, he would have been dead in three weeks.
“I thought he had some weird blood clot,” said Mrs Furtado. “He didn't believe anything was wrong, because he'd never been sick a day in his life.”
The golf course superintendent was medevaced to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston where he began a two-year course of chemotherapy.
Because he was strong and his organs were in great condition, he was given a 60 per cent chance of survival.
“People say take one day at a time,” Mrs Furtado said, “but that was hard at the beginning. You make plans and try to look ahead. It was terrible but by the time he went into his third induction, we had just become so accepting. Norman has such strong faith.
“I read an article about a woman whose husband died from cancer. She said the hardest thing was that they never spoke about how he felt about dying. She said afterward it was so hard. I marched into his room and said, ‘You have no choice. You have to tell me how you feel about dying.' He said, ‘I have no problem at all. I am not scared. God gives 100 per cent healing. It can be immediate, gradual or ultimate. I am not afraid.'”
He returned to Bermuda early in 2015 but was rushed back to Boston six months later after an MRI revealed leukaemia in his central nervous system.
Doctors told them a bone marrow transplant was “the only way forward” for this type of leukaemia but a series of setbacks followed. A lump in his face turned out to be solid leukaemia; eight tumours were ultimately found, scattered throughout his body.
The transplant could not go ahead. Instead, Mr Furtado had a brutal, five-week course of chemo.
“He had horrible reactions, fevers forever, an excruciatingly painful throat and mouth, and weight-loss,” said Mrs Furtado. “He couldn't walk.
“It had to be intense to target the lumps. He survived, but didn't know who people were sometimes. He developed two pulmonary embolisms and three other blood clots in his legs, but he made it through.
“We could see the lump in his face slowly disappearing so that gave us hope that the others were as well.”
He bounced back in mid-January. The transplant went ahead on March 9.
“The nurses said it was the biggest bag of marrow they'd ever seen and that either our donor was a very large man or he was having the marrow taken for at least two hours,” said Mrs Furtado. “And this was taken directly from his bones, a real gift.”
It took five-and-a-half hours for Mr Furtado to accept the entire bag; a nurse was by his side the entire time.
“We were truly blessed with our nurses,” said Mrs Furtado. “They were just wonderful, caring people.”
Mr Furtado cried when one of them gave him a little cross to put in his wallet.
He celebrated his 59th birthday on Saturday with a very simple birthday cake.
“I put two numbers on it — 59 for his age and 87 for the number of days since the transplant,” Mrs Furtado said. “We actually celebrated on Friday because in our small apartment there was no way to hide all the balloons I bought.”
Mr Furtado is waiting for day 100, when some of his restrictions will be eased.
“His donor cells have grafted 100 per cent,” Mrs Furtado said. “He's really defied the odds with that.
“On June 17 we'll reach the 100-day milestone that will reduce the chances of acute graft versus host disease. After nine months we'll know, more or less, how he is doing with chronic graft versus host although we hope for a miracle and that he will escape it completely. A few people do.”
Mr Furtado and his wife are hoping to be home by Christmas.
“I've missed work 100 per cent,” he said. “It's been really tough not being able to be on the course and do the job I've loved for the past 30 or 40 years. But most of all I miss the people I work with.
“It's been a big part of my life. I'd love to be standing on one of the greens right now, seeing how it's changed, admiring God's creation ...”