At a Yale lacrosse game, 4-year-old cancer survivor Jack Baer brings the luck
Brad Baer ’11 Arch. first got excited about the Yale lacrosse team’s prospects in 2018, when he watched TV coverage of the men’s team winning their first National Championship (following a perfect Ivy League season), beating Duke 13-11. He remembers coach Andy Shay being interviewed, and how exuberant he was. “He was giddy,” Baer says. “He just seemed like such a likeable guy.”
A few months later, while at the local pool, Baer’s wife, Katie, saw an unusual swelling on their 3-year-old son Jack’s neck and took him to see the doctor. Under the doctor’s advice, they rushed him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where Jack was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Since then, the family has spent countless days at CHOP as Jack has undergone long rounds of chemotherapy, spinal taps, and blood transfusions. Last August, the couple gave birth to their second son, Jude, who is now 9 months old.
The parents, who dated while Brad attended Yale School of Architecture, created a Facebook group called “Super Jack” to allow family and friends to track their son’s progress. “The good part is that he’s in remission,” Baer says. “He still has to take oral chemo each day and will continue monthly treatment and quarterly spinal taps at the hospital until the fall of 2021.” According to the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. 98% of kids with ALL go into remission after treatment and about 90% of them can be cured.
The building where the family spends the most time at CHOP is one Baer watched being designed as a graduate student working at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New Haven, founded by Cesar Pelli, the former dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “I’ve now spent so much time thinking about medical treatment and empathy,” says Baer, who now designs experiences and exhibits for cultural organizations at the digital agency Bluecadet. He says he is proud of the space at CHOP, which includes plenty of natural light, a view of a helicopter pad that Jack can watch while undergoing treatments, and circular ramps that Jack loves to ride on his scooter.
The Baers still have to be careful with Jack’s fragile health, but as he has been in remission, his family has been able to embark on more outings. When Brad saw that the Yale men’s lacrosse team would be playing the semi-final game against Penn State in their home city of Philadelphia this past May, he bought four tickets. He also checked in on the team online, and saw that six of the team’s 48 players were named Jack (technically, one is Jackson). On a whim, he tweeted a picture of himself and Jack wearing Yale ballcaps with the message: “You might already have 6 Jacks on the team, @YaleLacrosse, but you’ll have an extra special 7th Jack rooting you on this Saturday at the Linc. If he can beat Leukemia, you can beat PSU. Go Elis!”
That night, Baer received an email message from Coach Shay inviting him to sit with Shay’s family — including his wife, Sheila, and three kids — in the coach’s box during the game. Jack loved being able to run and play during the game, and to try out the lacrosse equipment. And everyone agreed when Yale won, defeating top-seeded Penn State, 21-17, scoring 10 of the first 11 goals, that having Jack Baer in the coach’s box was the good luck charm.
Baer says throughout his family’s experience managing Jack’s leukemia, people have been eager to help. But, he notes, there is still something remarkable about a stranger reaching out the way Coach Shay did. “He was looking for a way to add joy,” Baer says, “and he did.”