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University of Windsor

Son's inspiring battle with cancer spurs parents' donation to research lab

Like most parents, Donna and Dave Couvillon believe their children are exceptional, but it took a devastating illness for them to realize the depths of their son Kevin’s extraordinary character.~

“When he got cancer we realized just how amazing he truly was,” Dave said of “Keebo,” his nickname for his son, who died November 24, 2010, at the age of 26 after a three-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

A musician and sound engineer who ran a recording studio out of his parents' south Walkerville basement, Kevin was diagnosed with cancer on July 7, 2007, a date many considered lucky because of the three sevens in the date: 7/7/07. To his credit, Kevin considered himself lucky too, because his illness was discovered on that date and he quickly entered treatment at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre.

“He never asked ‘Why me?’” said Donna. “He just kept living. He wouldn’t let cancer take any more of his life than what was required. Rather than dwelling on his physical limitations, he’d get up in the morning and think about what he could do that day. He really made us think about how we use our time.”

In their son’s honour, the Couvillons will donate $20,000 to the lab of Siyaram Pandey, a professor in biochemistry who devotes most of his time to researching how certain natural compounds kill cancer cells. Their donation will be officially announced at a ceremony in the Toldo Health Education building tomorrow, on what would have been Kevin’s 27th birthday.

The couple—both UWindsor alumni and retired educators who graduated from what used to be known as the university’s “teacher’s college”—first heard of Dr. Pandey when they read an article in The Windsor Star about a team of his students who discovered that a water-based formula they developed from dandelion roots was effective in killing commercially available lines of cancer cells.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, but the formula is still a long way from being clinically tested on humans. The Couvillons actually bought an over-the-counter dandelion root extract, but never got to give it to Kevin because he was hospitalized by then and in the final stages of his illness. Still, they believe the work shows promise and want to support it as a tribute to their son.

“It feels like the right thing to do,” said Dave, who earned a BA in history in 1973. “Kevin fought so hard and he would want us to fight it too.”

The couple have already toured Pandey’s lab to learn more about the research, and both were very impressed by his students. Coincidentally, one of them—Eli Gharib—was taught back in kindergarten by Donna, who recognized him almost instantly when he entered the room.

“We were really impressed about the way Dr. Pandey spoke about his students,” said Donna, who earned a BA in psychology in 1973. “He said ‘My students are second to none.’”

Pandey got to meet Kevin briefly once while he was at the cancer centre collecting blood samples. He said he was humbled by the Couvillons’ generosity and by the stories he was told about their son’s lively spirit.

— Stephen Fields

Dave and Donna Couvillon are shown here with a portrait of Kevin in their son's basement recording studio.