Hampstead minister prepares to receive daughter's marrow Congregation keeping round-the-clock vigil

July 20, 1991|By Anne Haddad

The Rev. Bert Benz, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Hampstead, is looking death in the eye and laughing at it.

"You've heard of fried and refried beans?," Mr. Benz asked after a week's worth of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. "Well, I'm fried and refried Benz."

The 47-year-old pastor spoke by telephone from his hospital room at the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, Ky., where he is receiving a bone marrow transplant from his 12-year-old daughter. It is his only chance for surviving leukemia, his doctors say. And it's a risky chance at best because his daughter's marrow is not a perfect match.

Early yesterday, doctors in Lexington surgically removed about a quart of bone marrow from 12-year-old Lauren Benz and began processing it for intravenous feeding to her father.

Mr. Benz, who preached his last sermon for a while at Faith Baptist two weeks ago, had to wait until about 8 p.m. to begin receiving the marrow. And he'll have to wait another two weeks until he knows whether the transplant will save him.

The minister, whose voice is raspy because of his treatments, remained in good spirits yesterday, joking with reporters who called him and family members who gathered at his bedside.

Lauren, who was sore and dehydrated after her surgery, could say only that she hoped it works.

Mr. Benz learned after a routine physical last August that he has myelogenic leukemia. Doctors gave him two to four years to live. The transplant gives him a 40 percent chance of being cured.

But the process itself is risky, as doctors had to destroy all his marrow before the procedure. Now, he is vulnerable to infection and has no marrow of his own, should his body reject the transplant.

During the procedure last night, his family gathered in a nearby room to celebrate with refreshments and balloons.

Back home, his congregation and other supporters signed up for 15-minute intervals of a 24-hour prayer vigil that was supposed to start at midnight last night.

Mr. Benz, who is well-known in Carroll County because of his community activism, has received an outpouring of support from the 102 members of his congregation, other county residents and even strangers who have seen him on national news.

His wife, Linda, has worried that the attention will wear him down, but Mr. Benz says it's therapeutic.

"I just am bewildered by it," he said yesterday. "There are a lot of sick people in the world. Why should I get so much attention?"

The Rev. Rudy Tidwell, who took over the congregation in his friend's absence, said he believed that people are watching the minister to see whether Christianity works.

"Here is a man who for 25 years has been a pastor and has preached to others that no matter how difficult a situation you face, your Christian faith will see you through," Mr. Tidwell said. "And I believe people are wondering, is he going to practice it? Bert at this point is looking death in the face, and he's laughing.

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