A Legacy of Love

Locke Fund Benefits Stem Cell Transplant Program

In 2000, Ellen Locke, 37, was preparing for a stem cell transplant at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center to combat a recurrence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The procedure would require her to be isolated for at least 21 days while her bone marrow recovered from the high doses of chemotherapy administered to treat her lymphoma.

But it wasn’t the aggressive treatments Ellen worried most about. It was being away from her children — Brendan, 5 and Emily, 8.

That’s when her husband, Gregg, a general contractor, came up with an idea. Why not install special phone lines in the isolation rooms and give patients computer connectivity? Lahey took it one step further and suggested a videoconference hookup that would link to the family’s home in Tewksbury.

Arthur Rabinowitz, MD, Ellen’s hematologist and director of Lahey’s Autologous Stem Cell Transplant (ASCT) Program, worked with Locke and hospital administrators to make it happen. The closed-circuit videophone link was a lifeline for the family in the days long before FaceTime and Skype — enabling Ellen to talk “face-to-face” with her children about school, homework and friends in place of the family dinner table.

Being able to communicate with her children was a great comfort to Ellen during her stay in isolation. “Every day is a memory,” she told WCVB-TV’s Chronicle program, which profiled the family’s medical journey. Despite their ongoing challenges, the family wanted to help other cancer patients and their families. They started by funding other videophone hookups for hospital isolation rooms. But they didn’t stop there. Together, Gregg and Ellen established the Locke Fund to benefit the Stem Cell Transplant Program.

Legacy of giving lives on

Ellen Locke’s passing on December 22, 2007 inspired her family to continue their support for Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and its patients. Gregg said Ellen would be happy to know that the Locke Fund they founded together lives on. Brendan and Emily are now in their 20s and have experienced Ellen’s legacy. Over the years, the fund has raised more than $134,000 to benefit Lahey patients with blood cancers, programs, research, and staff development and to support Dr. Rabinowitz’s efforts to advance the ASCT program’s lifesaving work.

In 2016, the Lahey Autologous Stem Cell Transplant Program celebrated its 20-year anniversary. Stem cells harvested from a patient’s blood are infused following the administration of high-dose ­­­­chemotherapy to “rescue” a patient from potentially fatal complications. The procedure is routinely performed in many blood cancers such as myeloma, lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease.

Patient support for Lahey mission is vital

“It was my privilege to serve as Ellen’s physician,” said Dr. Rabinowitz. “I appreciate the support that Gregg, his children, and Ellen’s sisters have demonstrated. Their commitment to improving patient care and experience is remarkable. It really means a lot to physicians and nurses when patients and their families support the mission of Lahey: patient care, education and research.”

This fall, the Lockes will mark the 10-year anniversary of Ellen’s passing with a fundraiser keeping Ellen’s charitable spirit alive. Emily and Brendan have picked up the torch, coordinating the event in their mother’s honor. “Like their mother, they want to give back,” Gregg said. “You don’t have to be a millionaire. We started a grassroots fund together. Ellen made it look easy. We can make a difference to help other people. ”

Gregg’s relationship with Lahey Hospital & Medical Center goes back 40 years, when he came to the newly opened Burlington hospital as a teenager. “I can’t say enough good things about Lahey,” he said. “They do everything they possibly can for their patients. My wife loved the staff.”

Gregg encourages other patients and families to consider giving back to their doctor or hospital.

“In spite of so many things being out of her control, Ellen could still help other people in her situation,” Gregg said. “She inspired all of us to be better people and to help others who need our help. She would want people to know, you can make a difference. You can help yourself by helping others.”