When Madisonville resident Haydee Cullen
, 33, learned in late June that she had leukemia, she and her husband, Josh, took it in stride, turning to their strong faith to get their family through a difficult time. But Haydee Cullen’s battle with the disease turned out to be so atypical that it left doctors bewildered and the Cullens certain that a miracle has pulled Haydee through.
A Help Haydee Get Well benefit and inspirational celebration will be held Nov. 4 from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at The Greater Covington Center-Fuhrmann Auditorium in Covington. The event is free, though donations are welcome to help offset expenses related to the continued care of Madisonville mother, Haydee Cullen, 33, pictured here with her husband, Josh, and their children. Handout art
The Cullens will share their story during the Help Haydee Get Well event Nov. 4 from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at The Greater Covington Center-Fuhrmann Auditorium in Covington
“We hope people will come and hear a story of hope. I’m here and I should not be here. I’m in awe, and I want to share what is in my heart,” Haydee Cullen said.
“My wife was dying, and even the doctors thought it was a hopeless case. But at the end of the day when people walk away from this event I want them to take away the message that three weeks ago this person was dying and now she is home with her family. That is the greatness of God’s work,” Josh Cullen said.
Haydee Cullen’s leukemia seemed typical at first, and doctors put her on a strict regimen of oral drugs. But several weeks after her diagnosis, she developed a severe cough and landed in the emergency room. At that point, the Cullens realized that Haydee’s case was unusual.
“You hear about so many bad things that happen in this world, I hope people will come hear our story of faith and hope,” Haydee Cullen said.
“They didn’t tell us during the most critical points, of course, but I knew how bad it had been when my doctor said one morning that he was ‘relieved to see me still there,’” she said.
In the emergency room, Haydee Cullen learned that the cancer had caused a blood clot in her lung. She was hospitalized and returned home after several days. But a blood test revealed that she was not out of danger yet — her platelets were dangerously low and dropping fast.
“Doctors were searching all over the country looking to find platelets for her,” Josh Cullen said.
After two weeks, she still was in desperate need of her blood count to improve, and doctors began to wonder what to do, he said. Their decision was to try an immediate bone marrow transplant.
Haydee Cullen traveled via ambulance to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
Josh’s mother, Wanda, took the trip with Haydee, since the procedure would potentially require Haydee to be gone for six months, and Josh could not be away from his work as a drafter in the oil and gas industry for that long.
Wanda Cullen said it was in the brief waiting period before heading to M.D. Anderson that she saw the first sign of Haydee’s miraculous recovery. “During that time, even though platelets were flown in from everywhere, there were no results. Prayers spread for her and cards, emails and letters poured in,” Wanda Cullen said. She said Haydee remained calm and continued to pray for an answer to her plummeting platelets.
“She prayed for just a touch higher, that she’d have 33,000 (platelets). And do you know that right before we were set to leave for M.D. Anderson, her counts showed an increase? Not of 30,000, not 35,000, but 33,000 on the nose,” Wanda Cullen said.
At M.D. Anderson, Haydee Cullen developed another setback with a bout of pneumonia. But Haydee said it was yet another answer to prayers. “I had to wait for the pneumonia to subside before we could go ahead with the transplant, and during that waiting period, my platelet count began to come up,” she said.
Cullen never received the transplant, as the count slowly and steadily continued to rise. Finally, earlier this month, she returned home to Josh and their four children, Marie, 8; Anna and Michael, 6; and Noelle, 2.
Haydee Cullen said she must continue to return to M.D. Anderson regularly for bone marrow biopsies and monitoring of the blood clot, but that her prayer is for the leukemia to be gone completely.
“And I am confident that it will be,” she said.
“You hear about so many bad things that happen in this world, I hope people will come hear our story of faith and hope,” Haydee Cullen said. “God has so many wonderful plans for us. Look at me, my life was turned upside down; the doctors said I was a mystery. But God wants to give us good things.”
Wanda Cullen said she witnessed another miracle at M.D. Anderson after doctors examined the blood clot using a throat scope. “They told her that the scope could potentially damage her vocal chords, and of course, we prayed that it would not touch them,” she said.
As a vocalist and at the music director at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Covington, Wanda Cullen said it would be devastating for Haydee to lose her voice.
She said again, Haydee’s prayers were answered. “The doctors told us that it was the easiest scope he’d ever done and that it was like Haydee’s fingers moved the vocal chords out of his way,” Wanda Cullen said.
Haydee Cullen will sing for the first time in public since her diagnosis at the Help Haydee Get Well event. Josh and Haydee will both speak at the event, sharing the story of Haydee’s recovery.
“Our story is about walking with faith, and not just praying, but by being a true participant and walking alongside God,” Josh Cullen said.
Wanda Cullen calls the event “a celebration of the miracle that we have all witnessed in Haydee.”
The event also will help the Cullen family with medical expenses, bills that have piled up while Josh Cullen was off of work for more than a month and the cost of traveling back and forth to Houston in the coming months. There is no charge to attend, but donations to the family will be accepted.
The event will include live music by the Louisiana Academy of Performing Arts Jazz Band, the Mercy Beaucoup ensemble and the 14-piece band Big River Express along with other musicians.
Silent auction items include a jacket worn by Michael Jackson on his Pepsi tour, one of only 100 made; a vacation week in New Orleans; a weekend stay in New Jersey; eight passes to the Audubon Zoo for a day; local artwork and designer jewelry; gift certificates to a healing retreat; restaurant gift certificates; tuition certificates for music and dance lessons at the Louisiana Academy of Performing Arts and River Ridge Schools of Music and Dance; and an autographed copy of “America By Heart, a Reflection on Family, Faith and Flag” by Sarah Palin.
Donations still are being collected for the auction. To donate an item, contact Cindy Scardina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information and the complete updated of Haydee’s Cullen, visit http://haydeecullen.com or the Facebook page Help Haydee Get Well.
>>>Haydee is the music and liturgy coordinator at MHT where I am currently assigned. She and her family live their Catholic faith with great joy. Please pray for her complete healing and her quick return to ministry. And pray for her family too!