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Six-year-old inspires graduate

December 10, 2013 1:45PM

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Terry Killman enjoys the time he spends fishing with his grandson, Eli.

Just about every student at Pittsburg State University’s commencement exercises on Friday can point to someone who inspired them to finish their degree. For Terry Killman, who will receive a bachelor of science degree in vocational-technical education, that inspiration comes from a little 6-year-old named Eli.

Eli is Killman’s grandson and for a time three years ago, it looked like Killman wouldn’t be around to watch Eli grow up.

Killman was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia just a year into his degree program at Pittsburg State University. It was his and his wife, Michelle’s, 25th wedding anniversary.

“It was devastating,” Killman said of the news.

Killman’s disease progressed quickly and eventually his oncologist told him that if he didn’t start aggressive treatment immediately, he could be dead within the week.

“We had to try something,” Killman said. “I wasn’t ready to go.”

One of the reasons Killman gives for being so determined to beat his disease is Eli.

“Eli is important to me,” Killman said. “I’m raising him like my son, even though he’s my grandson. We’ve been pretty tight from the beginning.”

Killman said his doctors concluded that his only hope of a cure was through an adult stem cell transplant, but that required a bone marrow donor. Fortunately, his older brother, Vic, was a perfect match.

Killman took some time off from school. He underwent the transplant at Via Christi Hospital in Wichita, where he spent four and one-half months in the hospital, gradually growing stronger. Killman, a 20-year Navy veteran, said his doctors advised him to just drop out of school, but his wife, Michelle, wouldn’t hear of it.

Killman returned to school where, he said, PSU faculty provided the support he needed to complete his degree.

“Julie Dainty, my adviser, has been tremendously helpful,” Killman said. “All of the faculty have been so understanding about the time I needed to take off to go to the doctor or for medical treatment.”

Killman said overcoming the disease has given him a new perspective on life, making sure he takes time for things like fishing with Eli.

“My family is very important to me,” Killman said.

He also takes time to be an advocate for adult stem cell transplants. Killman was on hand last April when Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Senate Bill 199, which created the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center and he never misses an opportunity to educate people about adult stem cell therapy.

When he walks across the stage and receives his diploma Friday, Killman, who is now 38, said he will do so with a sense of optimism.

“My health is now good. We are working to build up my immune system, and finishing my degree is what I wanted to do,” Killman said.

And, he noted, he’s looking forward to lots more days fishing and hanging out with Eli.

©2013 Pittsburg State University