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Seriously ill teacher gathers strength to say ‘thanks'

March 28, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

LA JOLLA — The voice on the other end of the line was heavy.

It belonged to David Tessada, a longtime De Anza Junior High School physical education instructor and Calexico High School cross country coach recently named "teacher of the year" by the Calexico Education Foundation.

Former Calexico cross country team members familiar with the booming exhortations of the former coach might not have recognized the voice.

Stress has worn Tessada's vocal cords and many months of continuous prodding by all sorts of doctors have dimmed the unbridled enthusiasm for life that Tessada shared with his students and student-athletes for 26 years.

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Despite his weakened condition, Tessada sat up in his bed to grab the phone Wednesday so he could thank the Calexico residents who have returned the love he has had for them.

Speaking from his La Jolla hospital bed, where he is recovering from heavy doses of chemotherapy, Tessada said, "I just want to say thanks for how loyal they've been. They've stuck with me for 26 years at the same school. The relationships I've made with the parents and co-workers is probably the most special bond of all."

Last summer De Anza students, teachers and staff chipped in enough money, $3,600, to help send Tessada to Boston specialists for treatment.

"Janitors and cooks, people like that putting their money in to send me to Boston. That was great — and they won't stop. They won't stop. They made me the grand marshal of the parade, teacher of the year …

"I guess it goes to show if you put so much into something they won't forget," he said.

After he shared his thoughts, Tessada leaned back down.

His wife, Kim Tessada, took the phone to update Calexico residents on her husband's condition.

Last March Tessada was diagnosed with a rare disease called amyloidosis. For the past six months, he hasn't been able to teach because he has been receiving treatment here or in Boston for the incurable disease. He was only able to teach for about the first week of this school year.

He even had to miss a recent award ceremony conducted by the teachers' union where he was presented with the "teacher of the year" award plaque. His son, Sean, picked it up for him.

Amyloidosis is a group of diseases in which one or more organ systems accumulate deposits of abnormal protein., according to a Web site set up by the Amyloidosis Support Network.

Kim Tessada said, "It can be genetic but he has primary amyloidosis. It's simply a mutation of the plasma cells."

The mutation caused the plasma cells in Tessada's blood stream to "create a starchy protein that circulates through the blood and attaches itself to the organs of the body. The protein hardens and stiffens the organs," she explained.

She said her husband's internal organs are coated with the starchy goo, "his heart, kidney, liver … his nervous system and his gastrointestinal organs."

Earlier this month, she took her husband to the University of California San Diego's Thornton Hospital here. He has undergone a type of treatment called stem cell replacement therapy.

"What they do — he goes through a procedure called pheresis. It's almost like going through a dialysis treatment, he is hooked up to a machine that extracts his stem cells and freezes them," she said.

He underwent the pheresis procedure on March 11, 12 and 13. It's a four-hour procedure.

Tessada said it is not painful as such.

"He gets a little light- headed," but during the procedure he must remain hooked up to the machine.

"He can't leave the machine," she said.

With his stem cells removed, her husband was given a high dose of chemotherapy via an intravenous line on March 19 and 20. On Friday his stem cells were returned.

"The theory is the stem cells, which are immature blood cells, will grow to become healthy plasma cells and replace the diseased cells," she said.

If all goes well with his recovery from the high doses of chemotherapy and the pheresis procedure, Tessada could return to Calexico in early May.

He won't be cured of the disease and might have to come back to San Diego for treatment, but his wife is hoping the treatment puts a strangle hold on the constant degradation of his plasma cells and allows him to regain his strength and teach once more.

"There is no cure for this disease — we're looking for a very long remission. That's what you hope for," she said.

With a long remission, David Tessada would get to watch his children Sean, 16, graduate from high school and Andrea, 22, graduate from college.

He is also looking forward to getting back to work.

Kim Tessada said, "He loved the kids, loved his job — he still loves his job."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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