Duke Raleigh Hospital President Ready To Light The Night

September 12, 2017
By: Julie Harbin, Writer, DCI

David and Aimee ZaasPresident of Duke Raleigh Hospital and leukemia survivor David Zaas, MD, and his wife Aimee Zaas, MD, an infectious diseases specialist, have signed on as honorary team captains to lead Team Duke Cancer Center Raleigh at this year's Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Triangle Light the Night walk.

On February 14 of this year, David was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), caused by a rare genetic mutation. Enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, he underwent a clinical trial based on personalized gene therapy. This winter, a series of bone marrow drives were held to help find a match for Zaas. As fate would have it, the Zaas’ teenage son, Jake, was a match, and this spring he was able to donate lymphocytes, taken from his bone marrow, to his father.  

"Jake never questioned his decision to donate," said Zaas, who returned to work on July 31. "Jake was 100 percent all-in. He even made soccer tryouts three days after the procedure. He is an inspiration and source of joy to us all."

Duke Raleigh employees rallied behind Zaas while he was in treatment — sending hundreds of cards, wearing "Kick Leukemia's zAss" t-shirts, and participating in a head shaving challenge that raised more than $20,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“We are excited to have David and Aimee Zaas leading the charge for Duke Cancer Center Raleigh at this year's Light the Night walk,” said Tina Piccirilli, who helps oversee sponsorship activities for DCI. “The Light the Night Walk is an occasion to celebrate survivors, like David, and to give hope to those still fighting.”

Bone marrow donor Jake Zaas, 13, and his parents, David and Aimee. Over the summer Jake donated his bone marrow to his dad, David, who had been diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year.According to LLS, approximately every three minutes one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer. An estimated combined total of 172,910 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2017. New cases of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are expected to account for 10.2 percent of the estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases diagnosed this year in the United States.

More than 5,000 people step out each year for the Triangle Light the Night Walk. This year’s walk will take place Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina. Funds raised through Leukemia and Lymphoma events support vital programs and services for local patient battling blood cancers and also aid local research to find better treatments and cures. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society currently funds more than $1.2 million in research grants at Duke. For a second year, Duke Cancer Institute is teaming up to sponsor a Glam Station featuring spa-inspired activities hosted by Duke Cancer Institute's Patient Support Program. Highlights include complimentary makeup and salon services, scarf tying, wig fitting and face painting for kids.

"We hope our story and our efforts can impact the lives of others," said David, who is also partnering with LLS to support its Executive Challenge event. "Aimee and I invite everyone at Duke Raleigh to step out with us on Oct. 28. Let's light the night. Let's find a cure."

To register or join the Zaas’ team, or make a donation, visit Team Duke Cancer Center Raleigh. To register or join the Duke Cancer Institute team, captained by cell therapy and hematologic malignancies specialist Danielle Brander, MD visit Team Duke Cancer Institute.