When Alexander James Moll was 12 years old, a routine trip to the doctor for what felt like growing pains turned into a cancer diagnosis — osteosarcoma, a brutal form of bone cancer. With that diagnosis came the bitter likelihood that Alex would not live long into his teens.
Where others would have been cowed or swayed by the cruel unfairness of their fate, Alex kept his spirit intact and never gave up hope. It was that hope that brought him to Houston when treatment options in his home state of North Carolina evaporated. It was hope that led Alex’s physician to recommend a new pediatric cancer study at Texas Children’s Hospital. It was hope that formed an enduring bond between an intelligent, inquisitive teenage cancer patient and a brilliant physician-scientist.
And it was hope for the future that ultimately led Alex to make a remarkable gift to Texas Children’s Hospital through his estate, leaving behind an incredible and inspirational legacy.
“I came in and found this 16-year-old young man, who simply gave you the impression from his eyes that there was a depth there,” said Dr. Nabil Ahmed, a physician-scientist at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. The ensuing discussion confirmed that he was correct.
Within a few moments, the pair began discussing the study that had been recommended for Alex. They immediately abandoned the simplified explanation of the HEROS study (named for the HER2 target molecule and osteosarcoma), inciting one another instead into a full-blown Socratic dialogue. They discussed how the study had been developed and the science behind the mechanics and reprogramming of T-cells, a special type of white blood cells.
And they discussed the truth that at this early stage, the study would do little to directly help Alex.
Alex enrolled in the study anyway. Though he was still waiting on his own miracle, he hoped was that his participation would mean breakthroughs for cancer research in the future. In fact, he believed in the study so much that he asked Dr. Ahmed for a job. Dr. Ahmed knew better than to say no, and Alex became a full member of the research team.
After that summer internship in 2011, Alex went on to defy more odds. He graduated from high school. He was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania on scholarship. He taught cello to underprivileged children. But then, just after finishing his freshman year of college, time caught up with Alex Moll.
On August 13, 2013, Alex passed away after seven years of struggle. His extraordinary life had touched so many — but he was just getting started.
In his final days, Alex left a $50,000 bequest to Texas Children’s Hospital to support future cancer research through the establishment of the Alexander J. Moll Summer Scholar Fund. The fund will provide financial assistance for summer internships that will encourage other young people and foster in them a love of science and research.
As physicians and researchers continue their work to find improved treatments for patients like Alex, his legacy of hope will live on.