As Lee Ramsey’s family watched him being transported by ambulance from the emergency room at Lawnwood Hospital in Ft. Pierce to UF Health in Gainesville, they were in need of reassurance. Lee was brought into the local emergency room because he was having difficulty breathing. When local doctors suggested that Lee be seen at UF Health, the family didn’t hesitate.
Lee was referred to the division of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at UF Health. Lee’s mother, Nancy Ramsey, still remembers their first appointment.
“The first thing they told us was, ‘We’re gonna help you’, which was unbelievable,” Nancy said. “That was so encouraging. It was everything our family needed to hear.”
Lee had been fighting chronic illness for half his life. At the age of 17, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer most often found in children and adolescents. In Lee’s case, the disease presented as a cancerous tumor in his knee. After months of chemotherapy and knee replacement surgery at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, he did his best to move forward, building a normal life. Although he continued to be regularly monitored by local doctors throughout his adult life, Lee’s family spoke about a special man who was not defined by his diagnosis.
“He definitely had more ups than downs,” shared Rosemary Rincon, Lee’s oldest sister. “Through all of this, he continued to work and he lived a really, really happy life. He continued to fish, go on the boat and be a really family-loving boy. Anytime he saw his doctors it just gave him more strength and power to keep trucking through it.”
“To this day, our word is believe… we just took that word for our family – believe.”Nancy Ramsey
After initial testing, a cancerous tumor was identified in Lee’s lungs, which was surgically removed, followed by several weeks of recovery. Because of his original diagnosis of osteosarcoma, Lee was referred to Joanne Lagmay, M.D., associate professor in pediatric oncology, for ongoing care.
“Even though he was a 33-year-old man, his original osteosarcoma diagnosis meant he was being treated in the pediatric oncology area,” Rincon said. “He and my mom would laugh about him going to the pediatric oncology office and seeing toys in the waiting room.”
Under the care of Lagmay, Lee continued to improve. According to his family, Lee maintained a positive attitude and a willingness to participate in any clinical trials that Lagmay suggested, not only for his own potential benefit, but in the hopes that they might help future cancer patients.
In May 2020, Lee experienced an unexpected setback when he developed a lung infection. He continued to lose weight, and when he visited UF Health for a checkup in July, he was admitted in the hopes that his infection could be treated and his strength regained. Lee spent the next few weeks at UF Health Shands Hospital, with constant visits from his parents and sisters, before passing unexpectedly one night, in his sleep.
In the wake of Lee’s passing, his family reflected on his life and on the family’s experience during Lee’s care at UF Health.
“To this day, our word is believe,” Nancy said. “We always believed. Shands gave us that word. They never gave us anything to not believe in. Everything was so positive and encouraging, we just took that word for our family – believe.”
Having spent so much time with Lee in the pediatric oncology unit, the Ramseys wanted to find a way to give back to those patients and their families. In memory of Lee, the Ramsey family decided that each year, on his birthday – July 9 – they would hold a drive to support the pediatric oncology patients and their families. The first year’s drive focused on collecting gift cards. Between cards for gas, food, lodging, transportation and pre-paid cash cards, the family collected more than $3,000 worth of gift cards. The Ramseys then decided to match that amount in cash.
“Cancer hits everyone’s heart,” shared Sarah Egan, Lee’s younger sister. “And of course, pediatric oncology hits even harder. It was such a beautiful way for people to give and to honor Lee that we know will be given directly to families, and that was our motivation.”