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MIKE PENNER

Jet Gives Holan Encouragement

October 23, 1995|MIKE PENNER

Duck defenseman Milos Holan has a form of leukemia known by its forbidding shorthand as CGL--chronic granulocytic leukemia--which has an average survival time of three to 10 years unless it is treated with a bone marrow transplant.

Then, if the transplant is successful, the disease is 75% to 80% curable.

This is the somber reality confronting Holan, a 24-year-old Czech native beginning his first full season in the NHL, one of the brightest prospects on the Ducks roster, just signed to a multiyear contract, young husband and father of a daughter one month shy of her fifth birthday.

By chance, the Winnipeg Jets were in Anaheim the day Holan decided to go public with his condition. The Jets are captained by Kris King, whose family was forced to confront CGL six years ago.

Sunday night after Winnipeg's 6-2 loss to the Ducks, King had a message he wanted to pass along to Holan.

"Certainly, we're all pulling for him," King said. "I understand he's quite a scrapper, quite a fighter. My brother was the same way and he had to be.

"It's the reason he's still with us today."

Tony King was 27 in 1989 when he was diagnosed with CGL. "The outlook they gave my family wasn't very good," Kris recalled. "The recovery rate for someone in his age bracket was very small--10%, maybe 15%. And because of all the radiation he had, doctors gave him a 1% chance of conceiving a child naturally."

Today, Tony King is a sales representative for Labatt's beer and is, according to Kris, "one month away from becoming the top salesman this year in Canada. It hasn't slowed him down any."

Tony King is also six weeks away from becoming a father for the first time.

"His story is a success--a miracle," Kris King said. "He's going to be a father in six weeks. He said right from the start that he was going to beat it. He's a battler, and doctors have told him that had a lot to do with his success."

Holan quoted Tony King almost verbatim during Sunday's solemn news conference at The Pond, with his wife, Irena, wiping away tears as she stood by his side.

"At first I was really scared," Holan said. "But after doctors explained the situation to me, I feel I have a good chance to beat this."

That chance increased when the leukemia was discovered last month, through an obligatory blood test during training camp physicals. Holan's disease was diagnosed in the "chronic," or beginning, stage, when recovery rate is its highest. His fitness as a 24-year-old professional athlete also helps him. "If a patient is healthy before beginning [chemotherapy]," Ducks team physician Craig Milhouse said, "he has a much better chance to be cured."

But the weeks and months ahead of Holan won't be easy, Kris King cautioned.

Following Tony's diagnosis in late 1989 was, in Kris' words, "a year of true hell for my family." Tony was first treated for Hodgkin's disease, and underwent surgery to remove a lump from his neck. Follow-up tests revealed the leukemia, which left Tony King in the same condition as Holan is now--awaiting a suitable donor for a bone marrow transplant.

Kris was tested to see if his bone marrow was compatible. So was his younger brother and sister. "There are six categories they measure for compatibility," Kris said, "and I was the same in four of the six. That isn't enough. My sister was compatible in every category but sex, and that's the least important one. So she became the donor."

Tony King underwent bone marrow transplant surgery on Dec. 23, 1989.

The best Christmas he ever had came two days early.

Six years later, Tony King is an expectant father and Kris King is chairman of Manitoba's Ronald McDonald House, a fund-raising organization for cancer research. "The money they raised allowed my brother to still be with us."

Kris said Tony "isn't out of the woods yet. He's susceptible to pneumonia, so if he gets a severe cold, he has to check into a hospital for a few days for some intravenous treatment. He has to be very careful. But for someone who wasn't supposed to be around now, he can certainly afford to take a few days off work every now and then."

Kris King said he hopes his brother's story "can give consolation and hope" to Holan. "I'm sure he'll have a lot of support from his family, his teammates and his doctors, to help him through this difficult time. That's important. He needs to stay positive . . . Hopefully, they caught it soon enough and now they can stop it in its tracks."

Kris smiled as he recounted how "pumped" Tony was when he heard his wife, Patti, was pregnant. "He was on a seven-day fishing trip in northern Quebec," Kris recalled. "He drove down [to Port Sydney] by himself just so he could go to his wife's first Lamaze class."

A reporter thanked Kris King for his time and headed for the dressing room door. King couldn't let him leave, however, without calling out, "Next time you see Milos, certainly wish him all our best."

It will take more than that, obviously. But Holan now knows what has to be done and, more importantly, what can be done. Tony King, most definitely, is living proof.

Six years from now, maybe he and Holan can take in a hockey game together. With their kids.

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