The Five-Year Gift
They say Rome is the city of romance. In 1968, Pace University senior Kevin Byrnes certainly found this to be true during a summer semester abroad where he met sophomore Maureen Knerr. He does not recall his studies as much as he does falling in love with Maureen and their magical semester in Rome. "I came back to earth when we returned to New York and found out I had to stand in line to be with Maureen," laughs Kevin. "There were some other fellows back home who were just as crazy about this beautiful gal as I was. However, I was determined and, in the end, wore her down and we were married in 1970."
Thus began a wonderful marriage as Kevin embarked on a career in banking and Maureen began teaching kindergarten. Professional opportunities took them to New York, Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Florida, Rochester and finally Baltimore, where Kevin became active in the city's nonprofit sector, serving on the boards of Catholic Charities of Baltimore and Stevenson University, to name but a few. He and Maureen raised three terrific children and life was idyllic.
But, in 2010, shortly after the marriage of their daughter, Meghan, their lives took a drastic turn. When Kevin and Maureen came to the Cancer Institute at UM St. Joseph, she had recently received a devastating diagnosis of Stage 4 metastasized stomach cancer. Just 61 years old, Maureen was given only four to six months to live. Enter hematologist and oncologist Richard Schraeder, MD, who would not give up on the warm, vibrant woman he saw before him. "Maureen was very ill but I thought we should try Herceptin, a breast cancer drug that had shown promise for stomach cancer in a recent trial," says Schraeder. "Maureen responded beautifully." And with that, 'four to six months' became five years.
Kevin doesn't mince words when he explains why he generously supports St. Joe's; "What does five years mean? It means that Maureen got to hold three more grandchildren and kissed our son Colin on his wedding day. Dr. Schraeder and the entire Cancer Institute staff gave that gift to her. The care she received was phenomenal. Maureen was never 'a patient,' but always 'a person.' Her chemo appointments, every two weeks for five years, were like visits with old friends. She loved everyone in the Cancer Institute and they loved her back."
In July 2015, Maureen finally succumbed to her disease but family and friends think Maeve, the newest grandchild, age three, is the spitting image of Maureen with her bright blue eyes. Kevin is not sold just yet. "I'll know for sure when I see that sparkle in her personality that lights up a room, that makes everyone happier just being around her," he smiles. "That was Maureen."