The day we have been anticipating since George was first diagnosed with AML has finally arrived! Since we were told that the only route to the chance for an actual cure for George was a bone marrow transplant, we have been moving towards this day with intention and hope…completing all the tests required to clear George as a good candidate for the transplant (heart, lungs, clear bone marrow biopsy) and working with the oncologists to keep him in remission with chemotherapy until a perfect match bone marrow donor could be found and we cleared all the insurance hurdles, getting approval for hospital admittance and the transplant procedure. (Whew! That was a long sentence!).
So, today….Friday, July 8, 2022 is George’s new birth day! The chemo and radiation of the previous week wiped out his bone marrow in order to make a place for this new, precious, disease-free marrow (donor stem cells). George came into the hospital with type A+, but after this new birth, he will eventually have the donor’s type O+ blood. So wild!
The transplant was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. A little before then, a man arrived with a cart and plugged it into the wall. Then he placed a big canister labeled “STEM CELL #1” that contained the frozen donor stem cells on the floor next to the cart. The box-shaped apparatus on top of the cart that looks like a computer printer would be filled with hot water and used to defrost the bag of donor cells.
George was infused with three bags of donor cells. Each bag took about 5 minutes to infuse. George didn’t feel any pain or anything….he did feel some coolness in his veins while the cells were being infused and got some discomfort in his shoulders, but he was assured that was normal. Once weird thing was that the room smelled like tomato soup after the infusion! Like it was coming out of George’s pores! But George couldn’t smell it and the docs said that was normal too! P.A. Michelle said the smell comes from the preservative they use to keep the cells viable. She said some people say it smells like creamed corn. Nope – it was tomato soup!
It’s an amazing and selfless act, being a bone marrow donor. Your identity is kept secret – you don’t receive any thanks or expressions of gratitude. You don’t receive money or accolades. You simply contribute to saving the life of a stranger. It’s such a noble thing and the ultimate act of humanity and love of your fellow man.
I think it was so moving to experience this after the past couple of years, where we have seen massive displays of selfishness and ignorance and willful disregard for the health and lives of our fellow Americans by people who refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated to stop the spread of disease. People who verbally and physically assault other people on planes, in stores, in coffee shops, on the street…people who are just trying to do their job of protecting their own fellow workers, citizens and follow CDC recommendations. Loudly protesting local governments for following COVID protocols that the rest of the world is successfully following to stop the spread of disease. It’s been absolutely discouraging and disgraceful. And of course, by our own leadership….defiant maskless political rallies and public gatherings during the height of the pandemic. Campaigns of disinformation. People who can’t read/analyze a scientific report rejecting the opinions and recommendations of those who can. It’s made us lose faith in our fellow citizens more than once. Some Americans refused to do the simplest thing to help preserve life, like wear a strip of cloth across their mouths. By contrast, the donor’s act of selfless generosity reminded us that there is this side of humanity too…the embrace of scientific truth, a caring regard for fellow human beings and the willingness to make a personal sacrifice to help preserve a stranger’s life. Putting a greater cause above oneself. The importance of “us” over “me.” Beautiful and moving.
So, what now? Now, we wait for engraftment to take place. That is, for the stem cells to find their home in George’s bone marrow and start producing red and white blood cells, as well as platelets. This may take 2-3 weeks. In the meantime, George will probably need blood transfusions, platelet transfusions and lots of fluids. He is hooked up to a constantly running drip of Tacrolimus, which is used along with other medicine to keep the body from rejecting the new cells. It’s an immunosuppressant. During the next couple of weeks, George is at high risk for infection and will be closely monitored. He was told by one of the nurses to eat like a bear preparing for hibernation, because he will probably lose his appetite in the coming days. So, we are bracing ourselves for the next couple of weeks…preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best!
I’m so proud of my beloved husband, George. There have been some dark days since his diagnosis….moments of sorrow, bitterness, anger – but mostly sadness. Through it all, he has for the most part, remained optimistic and focused on getting this done! He’s the sweetest thing in the world and it is hard for me to see him deal with this diagnosis and disease he absolutely does NOT deserve. But does anyone?