September 21, 1998
Photo courtesy of the Seattle Mariners
(l-r) Raul Ibanez, Mariners right fielder, Michael Linders, leukemia survivor, Seattle Mariners Moose.
by Deborah Stone
Throwing the first pitch at a Mariners game is usually afforded to an individual who possesses some noteworthy distinction or honor. At the Sept. 8 game, many fans were probably wondering what made the seven year old boy so special.
Like most young boys his age, Michael Linders of Bothell loves baseball, Nintendo, Legos and riding bikes. Unlike most children, Michael Linders has spent the past five years of his life struggling to beat Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). When he was two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with the disease after having spent the summer coping with frequent viruses and unexplainable headaches.
"When the doctors confirmed the diagnosis, it felt like a bomb had been dropped on our home," says Sheryl Linders, Michael's mother. "We were in shock and didn't know that it would be the beginning of a five year war against leukemia."
Three years of intense chemotherapy followed, at the end of which, Michael was in remission.
Eight months later, the bomb dropped again with even more devastation. The leukemia was back and the doctors told Michael's parents that he had only a twenty percent chance of survival if he was treated with chemotherapy alone. His best hope lay with a bone marrow transplant which would increase his odds to fifty percent.
Testing was done on family members to determine who would be the best match for a bone marrow donor. Sheryl and Mark Linder have three boys: David, Jonathan and Michael. It was their middle son Jonathan, nine, who became the donor and on Sept. 15, 1997, the transplant was done at Fred Hutchinson Center.
"Jonathan was very willing to help his brother," says Sheryl, "but of course all the needles and pokes were somewhat frightening for him. He understood what was going to happen and wanted Michael to get well."
Michael stayed in the hospital for five weeks and until three months ago was on an extensive regimen of medication with periodic trips to the clinic for tests. In August, Michael had his one-year follow-up and was given a clean bill of health. "All restrictions are lifted," explains Sheryl, "and he can go to school, play with friends and do the things he hasn't been able to do for quite awhile. His prognosis is that he is ninety percent cured for life. It's amazing!"
According to Sheryl, Michael has had a mellow, "go-with-the-flow" personality since infancy. Throughout all the treatments and painful procedures, this attitude served him well in dealing with the trauma.
"Michael bore his illness with amazing grace and courage," comments Sheryl. "He didn't get angry with the circumstances and seemed to accept things, even in the most stressful times.
Our other two sons were equally as courageous: Jonathan was so brave as a donor and both he and David were always supportive of Michael, like his personal cheerleaders. It's been hard for them to watch their brother suffer, especially with the horrible side effects of the chemotherapy. At such a young age, they understand the reality of suffering."
The Linders feel that their religion has given the family strength, and their church has been instrumental in providing them with continuing emotional support. Michael is now a second grader at Shelton View Elementary and has begun the year with a memorable event to share with his class.
Throwing the first pitch at a recent Mariners game was incredibly exciting for him. The opportunity to participate in this special privilege arose when a social worker at Fred Hutchinson called the Linders with the offer. Doubletree Inns and the Mariners were presenting a financial gift to the Grant-a-Wish Foundation at the September 8 game and wanted a child who was a survivor of a life-threatening disease to throw the first pitch.
Michael met the Mariner Moose and pitched to player Raul Ibanez. Though a bit nervous about throwing the ball in front of the whole stadium, his mother said he pitched it "nice and straight."
Michael looks forward to playing baseball in the spring and hopes to be a pitcher, but before that, he plans to play basketball in the winter. "He has lots he wants to do,"says Sheryl, "because he's just been given his childhood back."