Al Copeland's legacy helped connect local man with new cancer drug

Meg Farris talks about his a famous local restaurateur is helping a cancer patient.

NEW ORLEANS -- Al Copeland Sr.'s dying wish is helping a local man battle the deadly cancer that claimed his life.

Ten years ago, Popeye's Chicken entrepreneur, Al Copeland, Sr. told his family he had Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare aggressive and deadly type of skin cancer. Six months later after chemotherapy in Germany, he lost his ;ofe. but he told his children of a serious and a fun wish.
 
"The first thing I need to do in my life before I die, is find a cure for this cancer ... and he wanted to break the world propeller speed boat record," his son Al Copeland, Junior remembers. He is the CEO and Chairman of Al Copeland Investments.

Years of work by the Copeland family through the Al Copeland Foundation, raised $1.5 million for the LSU Scott Cancer Center, so New Orleans could be one of only five places in the U.S. for people with Merkel cell carcinoma, to be part of a clinical trial getting a cutting edge treatment. It's not the chemotherapy that Copeland got, but rather immunotherapy.

"This basically allows the patient's immune system to fight the cancer which is an ideal," said Dr. Brian Boulmay, a Hematologist and Oncologist at LSU Health Sciences Center.

This week, that hard work became a personal reward. The first local patient to need this investigational treatment was Dr. Alfonso Vargas, LSU endocrinologist who 10 years ago, treated one of Al Copeland Junior's children. On Tuesday he had an emotional reunion with the Copeland family so he could say 'thank you' for the return favor.

Today, Al Junior sat with Dr. Vargas at the UMC Cancer Center as he was infused with the potentially life-saving drug.

"I just feel like the spirit of my father and everything that this, that this mission is all about, is working. I mean, Dr. Vargas is living proof that this, the mission that we're on, is working," said Copeland.

All of the tumors in Dr. Vargas' sinuses and throat, that triggered suspicious nose bleeds months ago, are gone or shrinking.

"Well thank you. That's the only thing. I wanted to kiss him the Italian way," said Dr. Vargas of the Tuesday meeting. "No matter how difficult the problems can be, there are some people willing to step up and give you a hand."

Now the Copelands are happy to give the Vargas family and other future patients, the hope their family did not have. 

While Dr. Vargas is the first cancer patient in the LSU arm of the study, there are 40 others enrolled at other U.S. sites.
 
To join the LSU cancer clinical trial call 504-407-7395 or click here.

There is also a big party and golf tournament, both in April, to raise money for the Al Copeland Foundation.

1. ACF Golf Fest - April 7
Sponsored by Fidelity and Nola Lending Group and is held at Beau Chene with a tee time of 11 am. More than your average golf tournament, ACF Golf Fest has chef-prepared food, a party complete with auction and prizes right on the golf course and a few surprises. All proceeds will support new local cancer research, education and patient programs at the Copeland-LSU Health Science Center Partnership in Viruses, Cancer and Immunotherapy.

2. ACF Krewe Du Cure - April 6
A night filled with culinary treats, music, dancing, Kendra Scott jewelry and a live auction filled with trips to China, Ireland and so many more. All proceeds will support new local cancer research, education and patient programs at the Copeland-LSU Health Science Center Partnership in Viruses, Cancer and Immunotherapy

© 2017 WWL-TV


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