Childhood cancer almost killed Tae Butler, but Dr. Ted Moore treated her with care and kindness. She’s paying that forward
“He gave me my first stethoscope,” says Butler, now 26, who endured five grueling four- to six-week hospital stays after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer. The gift and the care behind it helped Tae better understand what she was facing and cope with the pain.
“He taught me how to use the stethoscope to listen to the heart,” she recalls. “Instead of just coming in, listening and leaving, he was like, ‘Do you want to try?’ Hearing a heartbeat is so cool, especially as a kid. I always felt that he made sure that I understood what was happening.”
It was during these talks with Moore, a pediatric oncologist, that she decided to follow in his professional footsteps. “He nurtured my creativity and curiosity,” she says, “and that resulted in me choosing this path.”
Their paths intersected again last month. Now a fourth-year medical student at UCLA and 17 years cancer free, Tae got the chance to work alongside the man who saved her life and inspired her to become a doctor.
“It is a full-circle moment,” she says. “To see my name next to his on the patient list, and it has me as primary intern…now we’re both on the team together.”
The moment was just as rewarding for Moore.
“I see someone who has taken what could have been one of the worst tragedies and turned it into something absolutely incredible,” he says. “She has the ability to understand and connect with patients.”
The daughter of sports agent Mitch Butler (a former UCLA basketball star and NBA player) and stay-at-home mom Lisa, Tae was away at summer camp in 2006 when she started to feel sick. When she returned to their Los Angeles home, she couldn’t eat, her lymph nodes were swollen, her gums bled and she developed severe pain in her right leg.
“I couldn’t walk,” recalls Tae, who was rushed to the UCLA emergency room and started chemotherapy the next day.
“It was life-threatening,” says Moore. “At that time, there was about a 40 to 50 percent chance we would cure her.”
After seven months of punishing chemotherapy that left her with no hair, feeling nauseous and dealing with a weakened immune system, Tae was able to finally go home.
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Returning to school was tough — she was bullied about her hair — but her passion to become a doctor never wavered. In 2019, Tae graduated with a degree in human biology from Stanford University and later received a scholarship to UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
As Tae moves forward — next is a pediatrics residency after she graduates in June of 2024 and then a fellowship in pediatric oncology — she hopes to one day return to UCLA and continue working alongside Moore.
“I’m trying to be just like him,” she says.
She still keeps the stethoscope he gave her close by.
“I hang it above my desk to remind me, ‘This is what we’re working for, this is our why,’" she says. "It fuels me, even through hard times.”
Meanwhile, Moore, is thrilled the little girl he treated has come so far.
“A person like Tae only comes around once every few years," he says. "You try to keep them because you want to work with the best.”
He has only one disappointment, he says with a grin: “Although she’s so good at pediatrics, there’s a part of me that wants her to go into geriatrics, because I need a good doctor.”
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