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Computer Lets Cancer Patient Keep up with Schoolwork

November 9, 1989

SEATTLE (AP) _ Brian Swierczek’s recovery from leukemia is being aided by a computer that keeps him in touch with classmates and his fourth-grade teacher, who transmits assignments from 3,000 miles away.

Two months after Brian was diagnosed with leukemia in June, the family temporarily moved from Media, Pa., so the 9-year-old could undergo a bone marrow transplant at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Electronic mail from friends, as well as daily school assignments, arrive via a computer service offered by Prodigy Services Co., a joint venture of IBM and Sears.

Forget the classwork, says Brian, who’s more interested in keeping up with his pals and playing games on the computer with two younger brothers who have joined him for his recovery at an apartment near the hospital.

With the extra attention being shown Brian, his mother, June, has used the computer to begin her Christmas shopping and Brian’s father, Tim, relied on Prodigy to reserve airline tickets for the family’s Dec. 23 trip back to the Philadelphia suburb.

IBM loaned the family a computer, Sears loaned Brian’s elementary school a computer, and Prodigy donated the software and three free months of the service to both parties, said George Twiss, Seattle branch manager for Prodigy.

The White Plains, N.Y.-based service allows users to communicate with subscribers across the country using local phone lines. It offers services such as news, weather, movie reviews and stock prices for a $9.95 a month.

Brian’s mother said she’s hoping her son’s communications with the school will prevent him from repeating the fourth grade. Just as important, she said, is keeping Brian in close touch with his classmates.

Mrs. Swierczek said the computer service helps Brian feel closer to his classmates.

″They’re don’t really talk on the phone at this age,″ Mrs. Swierczek said. But his friends are all very interested in the computer and frequently leave messages, even the girls, she said.

″It definitely makes him feel more in touch,″ Mrs. Swierczek said.

The family came to Seattle after chemotherapy treatments in Philadelphia failed to cure Brian and the wait for a bone marrow transplant there was too long, Mrs. Swierczek said.

Swierczek’s bone marrow was found to be the closest match to his son’s and, on Sept. 9, it was transplanted during a 10-hour operation.

Brian has made it past the point where he would have an acute rejection of the transplant, Mrs. Swierczek said. But doctors must wait 100 days after a transplant before they know if Brian needs treatment with steroids to maintain his body’s acceptance of his father’s bone marrow, she said.

Brian was released from the hospital Oct. 4. But since his immune system is still weakened from the transplants and chemotherapy, he mainly stays in the house to avoid contracting illnesses.

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