Sept. 20, 2017 | Julie Ferguson, 51, of Conway, plans to straddle her Trek bike and join 60 others Sept. 23 to ride in the UAMS Myeloma Center’s Ride for Research.
Held in conjunction with the Big Dam Bridge 100, the 60 patients, supporters, donors and employees are riding to raise awareness of the blood and bone disease and money to help fight it with research and treatment.
“I decided to get involved because the research and awareness of multiple myeloma is important,” said Ferguson whose 80-year-old father David L. Baker of Conway died of complications of the disease in 2010. The longtime pharmacist, who owned several drugstores in Conway and in Little Rock, was diagnosed in 2006.
His daughter credits the physicians at UAMS Myeloma Center with extending his life.
“Without treatment, my dad would have died within months,” she said. “Although the treatment was a terrible battle with a lot of ups and downs, my dad had the best and newest treatments at UAMS, which led him into remission.”
During their time here, Baker and his wife Carolyn met other myeloma patients from all over the world who came to Little Rock for treatment.
“I see that UAMS is continuing to improve the facilities, doctors, staff and research,” Ferguson said. “I am hopeful the next treatment for myeloma is a cure.”
“It’s been tough,” said the homemaker who also manages rental properties. “I have been knocked down and felt defeated, but I get back up and try it again,” she explained. “I feel stronger every time I ride.”Ferguson, who began riding with Women Bike Arkansas earlier this year, says the sport has been challenging.
She originally signed up to ride the 10-mile course but later raised the bar for herself, more than tripling the distance.
“I changed it to the 32-mile course because I am riding for the research and awareness of myeloma and my dad had a challenge and fought hard,” she said. “I am taking up the challenge, the fight, the ‘never give up’ attitude for him and the many others who fought or are currently fighting myeloma.”
To date, the most miles Ferguson has covered in one ride has been 20.
“This will definitely be a challenge,” she says. Joining her will be her husband, Mark, who’s riding the 50-mile course and three of her friends from Conway, Shelly Moon and Lisa Jiles and Ginger Johnson.
Ferguson’s family has a long, deeply rooted history with UAMS, including several of family members who are graduates.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, her three brothers graduated from UAMS — a pharmacy degree for John and James Baker, owners of Sav On Drugs in Conway; and a medical degree for David, an ophthalmologist and owner of Baker Eye in Conway who’s named after their father.
Additionally, two scholarships at UAMS were established by her family.
“My dad was passionate about pharmacy and was well respected among his peers throughout the state,” Ferguson said, adding that in 1995, her father and his two brothers J.C. and Robert, also pharmacists, established the J. C. Baker, Sr. and Family Scholarship in Pharmacy in memory of their father John Cleveland Baker, an early Arkansas pharmacist who opened Baker Drugstore in Marshall before World War I. It remains open today, now owned and operated by J.C.’s grandchildren.
More recently, Ferguson’s brother, David, established the David L. Baker, Sr. Scholarship in honor of their father a couple of years after his death.
“With the educational history we have with UAMS and the familiarity of the high standard of staff at the school and hospital, we were thrilled to know that UAMS was literally the best place in the world to treat my dad’s onset and long-term treatment of multiple myeloma,” Ferguson said.
When her dad was diagnosed in 2006, she had never heard of the rare blood and bone disease. And when her friends would ask about the cancer, they would confuse it with the skin cancer melanoma.
“There was not a cure. Instead, remission was the word that we could look forward to experiencing with great joy. That was the goal and the only one that comes with a challenge, a fight and time and time again the words… ‘Never give up!’”
She watched as her father fought the disease.
“I saw him in pain before being diagnosed, undergoing aggressive treatment and being knocked down to a wheelchair before rallying to enjoy his family and finally go into remission,” recalled Ferguson who was close to obtaining a second degree in interior design from UCA when she quit school to help her mother care for her father a few months before his death.
“We were so thankful that we didn’t have to go anywhere else for the very best treatment. From what I saw in the aggressive and scientific treatment of my dad, I’m sure and hopeful we are close to a cure,” she said.