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Tribute to Tom Henry

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We lost a CLL friend, advocate, and scholar to COVID-19.

I am heartbroken and not sure where to start my personal tribute.

Tom Henry was a special person, active in multiple forums, extraordinarily generous in sharing his wisdom as a pharmacist, faith, and hard-earned experience as a CLL patient.

He was my friend, a friend to CLL Society, and a friend to the larger chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL) community.

I was blessed to know Tom for more than six years, spending time together at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meetings and Exposition (ASH) and social dinners when we were in the same city.

I well remember his stern admonishment of my ordering a grapefruit sorbet for dessert. Didn’t I know about the interactions of grapefruit with my medications? He never could take off his caring and counseling pharmacist’s hat.

At CLL Society, he wrote a lot for us. Here is one of his many original articles, The Role of the Pharmacist in CLL, that is still as relevant and helpful today as it was the day he wrote it. In addition, he wrote up interviews from ASH, explained in patient-friendly language new therapies, answered questions, and offered reassurance and sound advice in live patient webinars and online with his popular ASK THE PHARMACIST section on our website.

But beyond being a member of CLL Society’s medical advisory board and later expert medical council, he built from scratch his own website, CLL Pharmacist, full of trustworthy and accessible information, was a valued and active member of one of our Florida CLL Society support groups and was widely known as a respected and sought after expert patient on many forums and online groups.

He will be remembered by many and missed by them all, myself included.

Our mutual friend, Dr. Adrian Warnock, wrote this beautiful reflection that includes more of Tom’s biographical background. Please read it to get to know more about Tom.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the fear that many CLL/SLL patients feel with the recent deaths from COVID-19 of two prominent CLL experts who were also very well-connected fellow CLL patients. Tom was a former Chief of Pharmacy at Moffit, the hospital where he passed. The world-renowned CLL expert, Dr. Steve Coutre, died on November 9th, 2021, at Stanford, where he headed their CLL program. Our community questions if these two well-educated and much loved “expert patients” can’t survive a COVID-19 infection, what are their odds if one is neither a VIP nor a doctor or pharmacist?

I understand that fear. To start, we all know that viruses don’t avoid infecting healthcare professionals. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are often targets due to their increased exposure. Remember, too, that every case is different, and none of us are privy to all the details of Tom’s and Steve’s health risks and co-morbidities. Toss in the capricious nature of the SARS-Cov-2 virus and the lack of easy access to the best treatments that are just rolling out now in more significant numbers, and I argue it is both illogical and ill-advised to generalize from these two tragedies. By all means, try to avoid COVID-19, but keep in mind that the vast majority of CLL/SLL patients who become infected will survive.

Finally, at the request of Tom’s wife, the CLL Society has established the Thomas Henry Memorial Fund. If you are interested in supporting our mission of support, education, advocacy, and research in CLL/SLL, the family has suggested in lieu of flowers, one consider a donation.

I will finish where I started. I am heartbroken. We will push on. But we are short one of our leaders, one of our heroes.

Rest in peace, Tom Henry.

Stay strong, stay safe.

We are all in this together

Brian Koffman
EVP and CMO CLL Society