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Full Speed Ahead

09/01/2022 03:05 AM By Lisa Anderson
From the Paddock
William Rullan
William Rullan
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Full Speed Ahead

Making the Most of a Second Chance

Growing up on a coffee bean farm in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, William Rullan was a horse-crazy kid, who rode all the time. Determined to make a career in the equine industry, he attended the University of Mayagüez with that goal.

Eager to pursue their dreams in the “land of opportunity,” William and his brother Alberto moved to the U.S. to fulfill their mission of working together in Ocala, Florida and helping injured horses find healing.

Life-Changing

In August 2007, while William and Alberto were working with a horse, William got kicked in his right knee. He soon developed a bruise that never went away, eventually spreading to cover his entire leg.

“A week afterwards, I started getting a runny nose. I thought it was allergies and then it turned into something like a cold. I was coughing and sweating a lot; then, I’d have cold spells,” William recalls. “I just thought I had a cold, so I continued working and was taking over-the-counter cold medicines.”

After four to six weeks, he noticed he was getting tired quickly, which wasn’t normal. “My skin was also turning yellow,” says William.

“On October 3, 2007, I went to work and my heart rate was so high, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The scary part was that Alberto was in Puerto Rico, at the time, and I was barely speaking English.”

He went to the emergency room where doctors examined him and drew blood. “Then they said they needed to repeat the bloodwork because something wasn’t making sense,” says William. “After that, they sent me right into the hospital for an emergency blood transfusion because my body wasn’t producing blood.”

Doctors performed a biopsy and within two days. William was given a shocking diagnosis: leukemia.

He was 23 years old.

“I wasn’t sure if that was the last stop. I didn’t want anybody crying or sad about it. I thought, if it’s my time, it’s my time,” says William, who was relieved when his brother returned, and they could talk about what to do.

When his doctors mentioned a stem cell research study at Shands Hospital that could treat leukemia, William was willing to give it a try. He and Alberto used stem cell therapy on horses, so he knew it could be a game-changer.

For four months, William underwent chemotherapy and stem cell research treatment. Throughout that time, he basically had no functioning immune system and lived in a filtered room where anyone who entered had to be suited up, masked and gloved.

“They treated me, so my body could produce good bone marrow. After several treatments, the biopsy came back negative and they collected stem cells from my bone marrow,” William explains.

“On February 14, 2008, I received a bone marrow transplant of my own bone marrow. This was from specific research that Shands was doing then; it took only one transplant.” William had literally been given a new lease on life.

“Once I got out of the hospital, it took about two months for me to stabilize. After that, I considered myself back to normal,” he says. “Basically, I didn’t change anything from what I’d been doing before. The doctors and nurses were amazed at my recovery.”

In 2009, the Rullan brothers founded Performance Equine Veterinary Services in Ocala—Alberto as the veterinarian, William as the technician.
Mockup

Happy Surprise

Back when William was undergoing chemotherapy, doctors said it would sterilize him. Not being able to father children didn’t really cross his mind, until he met his future wife Carolyn in 2010 and they married in 2016. After a year of marriage, William thought he’d have a sperm count, just to confirm what the doctors had said earlier. To his surprise, his count was normal.

In 2018, Carolyn got pregnant. It was the same year William was declared cancer-free, 10 years post-treatment. Sebastian Andres was born in 2019, and Ana Sophia came along in 2021, making the Rullans a happy family of four.

Today, William is busier than ever. In 2017, he and Alberto launched Equine Performance Innovative Center (EPIC), an equine rehab facility. William is director of medical services for both clinics, where he typically works six to seven days a week, helping horses heal.

When he’s not working, William loves spending time with his family, “mudding” in his Jeep, and riding his Harley. He and Alberto also share an ongoing competition to see who can cook the best ribeye. “It’s a brother thing!” he laughs.

“Every single person has 24 hours; it just depends on how you divide them,” says William. “My brother and I like to divide that time to be more productive and also to give love to our families.”
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