Jace Randel’s interests track pretty closely with those of a typical teenager―baseball, honors classes, 4-H―with the major exception being his passion to carry on the legacy of the doctor who helped save his life.
The now-16-year-old high school sophomore had just turned 11 when he was first admitted to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. After months of testing, a bone marrow biopsy revealed that Jace suffered from severe aplastic anemia, leaving his bone marrow unable to make enough blood cells for his body.
The only treatment was a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, Jace’s older sister, Audrie, was a match, and Jace began a 53-day stay at Riley.
“I remember there were days that I didn’t want to do anything. I was mad,” Jace recalls. “But then there were other days when I tried to do as much as I could, like playing with the younger kids to help them feel better.”
Jace became close to Riley staff, from the music therapist who helped him practice songs on the keyboard, to the donor-funded Child Life Specialists who helped Jace host a concert in the stem cell unit playroom.
The Randel family also grew close to Jace’s primary physician, Riley Pediatric Hematologist-Oncologist Grzegorz Nalepa, M.D., Ph.D., who was researching anemias. When a family friend raised money for Jace’s care, Jace requested that the $14,000 be given instead to Riley Children’s Foundation to support Child Life, Stem Cell Social Work and Dr. Nalepa’s research.
Dr. Nalepa nominated Jace to be a Riley Champion, writing, “Jace is kind, funny and thoughtful; he is a ball of energy and enthusiasm. He has an infectious energy and spirit that could not be diminished by his treatment.”
Dr. Nalepa passed away suddenly last fall at the age of 43, stunning the Randel family, but also deepening their resolve to raise awareness about the exceptional research and patient care Riley provides. “I tell people often, when you go into Riley, the people who work there are staff, but when you leave, they’re family,” says Jace’s mom Amanda Randel. “They genuinely care for the children and the parents.”