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Childhood cancer patient dedicates his life to clinical trial research

After participating in a paediatric leukemia study, Arjan Ooms’ life has come full circle as our director of clinical research in the Netherlands

November 19, 2021

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Arjan Ooms smiling

On a day that should be filled with balloons, cake and presents, Arjan Ooms was in the hospital being diagnosed with leukemia. It was his fourth birthday.

Ooms was a relatively healthy young boy, but his parents started to worry when they noticed blue needle-size dots on his body.

“The moment I was diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphocytic leukemia), my life and that of my parents and the whole family was turned upside down.”

Arjan Ooms

Director, clinical research, the Netherlands

When Ooms was diagnosed with ALL in 1985, there weren’t nearly as many treatment options as today, and many included high doses of chemotherapy and radiation. After much consideration, Ooms’ parents decided to enroll their son in a clinical trial using an experimental treatment without radiation.

Although Ooms says he doesn’t remember much from his time as a paediatric patient, he does have memories of post-chemotherapy ice-cream treats, pet therapy visits and a meet and greet with Santa Claus.

Coming full circle

One year after his diagnosis, Ooms’ doctors told him he was in remission. But his journey with cancer wasn’t over just yet. The following years were filled with regular follow-up care appointments, and to this day, he still sees physicians to observe the long-term side effects of his childhood cancer as part of another clinical trial.

The importance of clinical trials has always stayed with Ooms. He went to college to study general health sciences and then started a career in clinical drug research in the pharmaceutical industry.

Today, he’s responsible for all clinical research activities for our company within the Netherlands — a position that coincidentally brought him back to the same hospital where he was treated as a young boy. Ooms was there to check in on a trial our company was conducting, but he took a moment to walk the halls and even stopped by his old hospital room that he says still had the same color paint on the walls.

“I saw kids moving around me in wheelchairs with their IV infusions on the back. Many had no hair on their heads, but they were smiling and laughing,” Ooms says. “At that moment, I realised, ‘Okay, I was also here when I was four years old, so let’s make sure I can give something back.”

Ooms says he also finds himself sharing his personal cancer story with his research teams to remind them of the impact their work has on so many different people.

“It’s not just a project, it’s a project where we can make a potential solution for a patient, and one that patients may benefit from in the future.”

Living life to the fullest

As a young boy, Ooms spent months in the hospital and sometimes in quarantine alone and away from his loved ones. He says turning off emotions was necessary to survive during that time, but today he has a different outlook on life.

“Now is the time that I truly value the real emotional connection,” says Ooms. “I want to get the most out of my life and with my three young children, I’m also trying to make it clear to them how beautiful life is.”

AU-NON-00758 Last updated July 2023