Two couples—one each from California and Virginia—were not expecting to run into each other at Loma Linda University Medical Center earlier this year where the two men had gone to receive proton therapy for prostate cancer. The story of how they met and the unanticipated connections between them is, however, truly remarkable.
Jim Eis recalls the day he and Lori, who live in Grand Terrace, California, met Lee and Patty McLennan, of Roanoke, Virginia, before one of their daily 45-minute proton sessions at the James M. Slater, MD, Proton Treatment and Research Center.
“Lee liked to play the piano in the waiting room,” Jim explains, “and everyone enjoyed his music. Lee is a great musician; he has a really good repertoire on the piano!”
Jim—who was in charge of musical entertainment for the weekly evening potlucks of a support group for men undergoing proton treatment—asked if Lee would perform at one of the meetings. Lee said yes, and the two couples began to get better acquainted.
Jim was surprised when Patty mentioned that Lee had lived in Downey, California, in the 1950s. “So did I,” Jim replied.
Before long, they discovered they had lots of things in common. In 1958, when Jim was 17, he had played fullback on the senior varsity football team at Downey High School. The football connection inspired Lee to ask if Jim had known his older brother, Bob, who had also played football at the school.
“Yes,” Jim answered. “Bob was a sophomore and played on the junior varsity team. He was an amazing athlete, a star player, an outstanding student, and a school leader. He was a model citizen—a standout!”
Jim reflects for a moment and then shares that Bob had also been an awesome golfer, who once played the famed Pebble Beach course under par.
A dark cloud comes over the scene as Jim adds that Bob had suffered massive injuries during a game with a visiting team that same autumn, and died a few hours later.
“The entire school was affected,” Jim remembers. “We all mourned his death.”
He recalls that students and faculty of the school and countless members of the community attended Bob’s memorial service at the Downey Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that lines of people stretched clear around the building and down the block. “The influence of his goodness hovered over the school following his death, and turned it into an even better place.”
Jim points out that Bob and Lee’s sister, Twyla, who was a member of the local Adventist congregation, was an officer of the campus Bible club. When Lori prompts, he reluctantly admits that he was president of the club.
“There was a contest between Downey and a school in Philadelphia over which one had the largest Bible club of any high school in the United States,” he notes. “Downey won!”
Jim adds that Lee’s sister, known today as Twyla Thompson, had also been an officer of the Bible club and an outstanding student.
“She was the Homecoming Princess one year,” Jim reports. Turning to Lee, he adds, “and even though you were five years old at the time, you were a major part of the homecoming game in 1958, serving as ring bearer.”
At this point in the conversation, Lee and Patty insist it’s their turn to brag about Jim.
Patty notes that he had cut a large swath across the campus. Not only had he been a member of the California Interscholastic Federation championship football team two years running, but he also served as student body president his senior year.
Lee remembers that Jim had been the first recipient of the Boy of the Year Award that Robert McLennan, MD, Lee’s father, had established at the school to perpetuate Bob’s legacy the year he died.
“It became the most sought-after award at the school,” Patty informs, “because of the character you had to have in order to get it. You really had to be someone quite exceptional to win it. Students, faculty, and Lee’s father voted on the award. Jim Eis was the very first recipient.”
“The award was not taken lightly by my father,” Lee agrees. “He was a wonderful judge of character, and this gentleman,” he says, pointing to Jim, “had to be an impeccable gentleman to receive it.”
Jim quickly deflects the praise, turning it instead to Lee’s father.
“Dr. McLennan was an amazing man!” Jim enthuses, “one of the finest men I have ever met! A physician—in fact, he was a Loma Linda graduate—a leader in his community, and a friend of Ronald Reagan, Dr. McLennan was also a state assemblyman, and a very strong supporter of Downey High School. He really cared about people. He exerted an enormous influence on me. I’ll never forget what he told me when he presented the award: he said to take responsibility and make a difference. I’ve been trying to do that ever since.”
Over the remaining weeks of their therapy in Loma Linda, the two couples met frequently for lunch and dinner as well as recreational and social activities. One of their favorite pastimes was digging through old newspaper clippings and remembering the events of six decades ago that unite them.
Today, Jim and Lori live in Grand Terrace, where he has owned a pension business for the last 23 years. Prior to that, he was a corporate officer in the insurance industry for 30 years. Lee and Patty, on the other hand, still live in Roanoke, where he has served as an obstetrician/gynecologist for the last 35 years, and she is a nurse. Lee and two of their sons are graduates of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, and Patty is an alumnus of Loma Linda University School of Nursing. Their third son, Chad, is currently a student at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry.
“We still can’t believe this happened the way it did,” Lori observes. “It’s pretty amazing!”
“Yes,” Lee agrees. “What are the odds? We live 3,000 miles apart, Jim and I both got prostate cancer at the same time, we both came to Loma Linda for treatment, and both had our treatment at the same time of day. You can’t tell me that was just coincidence!”
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