Posts Tagged ‘leukemia’

A Very Happy Re-Birth Day for Bone Marrow Transplant Patients & Families

The Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center of Winship Cancer Institute performed its first transplant in 1979. On Wed., Sept. 25, 2013, it performed its 4000th transplant.

What did that number mean to lymphoma patient Vicky Scott, who was one of three people receiving a transplant on Wednesday?

“It means that four thousand people get to be with their families, and get a new chance at life,” she said from her room in the special transplant unit.

Vicky, a retired nurse from Enterprise, Alabama, was waiting patiently with her husband Richard for unrelated donor bone marrow cells to arrive for her transplant. Although the infusion is a routine procedure, it is a special moment when the transplanted cells start coursing through the bloodstream and head for the bone marrow to re-start the body’s production of white blood cells.

“We have been able to really decrease risk and side effects with our supportive care and better medications,” said Dr. Jonathan Kaufman, who was on service that day in the unit. “By doing that we can open up transplant to a lot more patients.”

Duane Fulk and his wife Sue, in the room next to Vicky, didn’t have to wait long for his autologous transplant, meaning one with his own stem cells.

“I see this as the final treatment, eradication of the mantel cells, and us going forward without looking back over our shoulders,” said Sue, watching the transplant team perform her husband’s procedure. For members of the team, the 4000th transplant represents the fruition of decades of their experience and dedication to caring for patients.

Like many patients, Duane had a sudden onset of illness that signaled something was wrong. It’s been a year since he was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma.

But Vicky has been struggling with auto-immune diseases for years, and in fact received an autologous stem cell transplant ten years ago in Colorado. She has some perspective on how dramatically the procedures and drugs have changed in ten years.

“It’s night and day,” she said. “I was so sick that first time, I didn’t think I was going to make it. This time, I’ve had virtually no side effects from the drugs and other than feeling weak from the disease, I’m in much better shape.”

As Duane neared the end of his transplant, a group of nurses came to his room to sing their own very special version of “Happy Birthday,” a ritual they’ve developed to mark what is for many, a re-birth day.

The lyrics of their song convey the excitement and possibilities of the transplant: “Happy, happy birthday, it’s time to start brand new!”

“The ability to get a transplant represents hope for survival, hope for getting back to life,” said Dr. Jonathan Kaufman.

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Why We Run: A New Type of Togetherness

Bari Ellen & Charles RossBari Ellen and Charles Roberts always had a strong marriage. Togetherness was a major goal for the couple, who married in late midlife. Their shared experience of running a restaurant together, traveling together and moving across country to Arizona for a new life adventure strengthened their bond.

Their togetherness took a wayward turn in 2009, however, when the husband and wife were each diagnosed with cancer within two days of one another. Charles had been sick for months, but doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong. Bari Ellen, who was feeling great physically, had gone to yet another doctor’s appointment with her husband. Charles suggested to the doctor that perhaps he just had an infection, as his wife seemed to have an infection, too.

“She’s got a lump on her neck. Maybe we both just have an infection,” Charles said.

The doctor took one look at the lump on Bari Ellen’s neck and said, “Make an appointment with the receptionist tomorrow.” It was a good thing that she did.

“They did a biopsy, and the doctor told me I had head and neck cancer and that it was pretty far gone. He said he didn’t know what he could do for me,” Bari Ellen remembered.

Her cancer was staged at 4B and the prognosis was poor. Two days after Bari Ellen received her bad news, lab results for Charlie came back announcing that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.

“We were in a swirl,” Bari Ellen said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

Within a week, Bari Ellen went to Atlanta at the suggestion of her daughter, who works at Emory, to get a second opinion. Her daughter had told her that maybe the couple could find hope and better news at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

“Once we got to Winship and saw their compassion and dedication and their sense of purpose, we got a sense of purpose and hope, too,” Bari Ellen said. “They gave us an action plan; they didn’t just write me off. We knew we had a fight before us, but we knew we could win it.”

Today, as survivors for four years, the Rosses are retired, enjoying grandchildren, exercising, volunteering and taking care to eat healthfully. They are also running races and this year, both of them are registered for the Winship Win the Fight 5K on October 5th. The couple have formed a team called the Ross Re-Missionaries, and are recruiting as many friends and family members as they can.

“After everything we’ve been through, and after everything they’ve done, I said ‘We’re going to start giving back,’” Bari Ellen said.

The randomness of their diagnoses helps the Rosses to understand the importance of cancer research, which is another reason they strongly support the Winship Win the Fight 5K. All money goes to cancer research at Winship and donors can choose a specific cancer type to which they would like to contribute.

“Our doctors were so phenomenal and did so much for us that we want to do whatever we can,” Bari Ellen said. “They saved our lives.”

The Winship Win the Fight 5K is fast upon us! If you want to run or simply help support other runners like the Roberts, visit the Winship 5K website for more information.

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Winship Central to New Study Evaluating Bone Marrow vs. Blood Stem Cell Transplant

Patients with leukemia or blood-related cancers are typically treated with one of two techniques, either a bone marrow transplant, or a blood stem cell transplants. Currently, there are many studies are currently being conducted to determine which option is right for each patient type.

Past studies have shown that when blood stem cell (as opposed to bone marrow) transplants are used between HumanLeukocyte Antigen (HLA)-identical siblings, or siblings whose tissue is immunologically compatible,  the engraftment process is accelerated. Engraftment is when the donated cells, in this case, blood stem cells, begin to grow and produce their own new blood cells. However, with this benefit, there can be some risk. Studies have also shown that when blood stem cell transplants are used, the risk of acute and chronic graft-versus-host-diseaese (GVHD) is increased when compared to GVHD rates experienced by patients who receive bone marrow transplants. Other studies have demonstrated that patients with high-risk leukemia experience a decreased rate of relapse and improved survival rates from of blood stem cell transplant. Because these two treatment options have varying benefits and risks depending on unique patient circumstances, ongoing research is being conducted to better understand those potential benefits and  risks.

Edmund K. Waller, MD, Winship Cancer Institute

Edmund K. Waller, MD
Director of Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant
Winship Cancer Institute

Edmund K. Waller, MD, Director of the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Center at Winship Cancer Institute, was a key author and researcher in a study published on October 18, 2012, in the New England Journal of Medicine that could influence whether leukemia and blood-related cancer patients receive transplants from blood stem cells or bone marrow.

The study reported on the first randomized trial comparing bone marrow with peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) for unrelated-donor transplantation. The trial involved 48 centers enrolling 551 patients as part of the Bone Marrow and Clinical Trials Network (BMT CTN). Dr. Waller helped design the study, and his lab at Winship analyzed the cells in each type of graft as the central core lab for the trial.

The study found no significant difference in the overall survival rate at two years, and no difference in relapse rates or in acute graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). It did, however, find a significantly higher rate of chronic GVHD among patients receiving blood stem cell transplants.

Because GVHD can be a difficult and sometimes life-threatening complication from transplants, this finding could result in patients and their physicians choosing different treatments. At the very least, this finding will generate serious discussion among leaders in the transplant field about whether bone marrow or PBSC transplantation is a better treatment option.

Chronic GVHD starts more than three months after a transplant and can severely diminish a patient’s quality of life over his or her lifetime. Dr. Waller says the study leads him to believe that since the survival rates are the same, bone marrow should be the standard for the majority of unrelated-donor transplants. Exceptions to this would be patients with life-threatening infections and patients at high risk for graft rejection.

Winship played a key role in this study and, according to Waller, is part of on-going BMT CTN studies that will help shape transplant protocols and outcomes.

“This is an outstanding example of Winship investigators leading in the resolution of major questions in cancer care,” said Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, Deputy Director of the Winship Cancer Institute, and Chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University. “Dr. Waller and his colleagues have helped define a major question, namely, whether patients who receive grafts from unrelated donors should receive peripheral stem cells or cells from the bone marrow harvest of others. This is paradigm shifting work, and Dr. Waller and his colleagues are to be congratulated for their foresight and persistence in answering this important question.”

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Join Us for the 32nd Annual Charles Harris Run for Leukemia

Charles Harris Run for LeukemiaThe annual Charles Harris Run for Leukemia, which benefits leukemia research at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, is scheduled for Saturday, February 25. The 10K run kicks off at 7:45 am at Tucker High School; the one-mile run/walk starts at Druid Hills Middle School.

The run honors the late Dr. Charles E. Harris — former teacher, coach and beloved principal of Shamrock High School. Dr. Harris passed away more than three decades ago from leukemia at the age of 49. Dr. Harris was an un-sung All-American football player at the University of Georgia and a Marine who volunteered for the Korean War. Playing on the Camp Pendleton football team, Pete Rozelle, father of the modern day NFL, attempted to draft Dr. Harris to the Los Angeles Rams football team before he graduated from UGA. He played one year with the New York Titans (now Jets) and made it to the last cut with the Cleveland Browns during the Jim Brown and Coach Paul Brown era. An avid runner, Dr. Harris ran in the inaugural Peachtree Road Race. He left behind a wife and three children.

Dr. Harris’ children, led by son Chuck Harris, began the Charles Harris Run for Leukemia 32 years ago this year, and they have dedicated all race proceeds to Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. In celebration of this special 32nd anniversary, please consider joining us this year as a walker, runner or race day volunteer.

If you would like register for the race please follow the registration link at www.charlesharrisrun.com.

Volunteers are also needed during the race to hand out t-shirts, pass out water at various water stations, cover intersecting points, help out in the finish shoot and help with bag check. Please go to http://charlesharrisrun.com/contactus.html to register to volunteer. All volunteers should report to Shamrock Middle School between 6:15 and 6:30 am. Volunteers will receive a free t-shirt, philanthropic points and the opportunity to watch world class runners compete!

Directions to Shamrock Middle School from Emory University:

  1. Head Southeast on OXFORD RD NE toward N. Decatur Rd.
  2. Stay on N. DECATUR RD for 2.1 miles
  3. Turn left on SCOTT BLVD (also called US29, US-78 E, and GA-8) Follow US-29 for 2.1 miles.
  4. Turn left on HARCOURT DR.
  5. HARCOURT dead ends on MT. OLIVE DR. – turn right
  6. SHAMROCK MIDDLE SCHOOL is on the left.

If you have questions about volunteer opportunities, please contact Melissa Harris at (770) 495-8557 or email Melissa_h@bellsouth.net.