Thursday, September 8, 2011

I've Got a Donor! Leukemia and Unrelated Cord Blood Transplants

I guess I should report this as breaking news. From my doctor:

Noted -- I did speak with the transplant team [yesterday]. Cord blood stem cell units have been identified and reserved.

I was told by a nurse on Tuesday that cord blood transplants can be done, but it takes 3 umbilical cords to provide enough for an adult. A friend of mine, Becky Milam, told me she had donated an umbilical cord, in fact.

I read some articles about it today.

Apparently, you don't have to match cord blood as stringently because the immune cells in the cord blood are less mature. In fact, when you receive bone marrow from an unrelated donor, the doctors remove the T-cells to help reduce graft-versus-host disease. (That's when the new marrow or stem cells create an immune system that attacks the recipient's--that's me--body.) In cord cell blood, however, you can leave the T-cells in, which helps make sure that there's no relapse. The T-cells make the new immune system more likely to find and destroy any lurking leukemia cells.

In old articles I read—and I only read medical news reports and actual research papers, about 12 of them—there was increased graft-versus-host disease from unrelated cord blood transplants. That was around 2005. In 2010, the papers show a reduced incidence of graft-versus-host disease.

Survival rates for partial matches from cord blood are just as high as perfect matches from adults.

That's really good news, but you don't want to know what the survival rates are. They're not quite as good as I thought they were.

Of course, the higher risk just increases my excitement. At the end of this, it makes my claim that God is in control of all this that much more powerful.

So, okay, I'll tell you. I saw 38% chance of survival for 2 years. The vast majority who survived that long were leukemia-free. Keep in mind, though, that there's a lot involved in that number. Some people were not in remission when they got their transplant, and those people do terrible. Others didn't have quite as many stem cells as I'll probably get, so it took longer for their counts to recover. Some of those were basically without an immune system for over a month, and others for over two months. A lot of those died of infections and diseases incurred during that time.

Either way, I like the risk. It's exciting because we're trusting God.

Again, I always really loved the end of The Last Starfighter, a children's movie that's not clean enough to show to children. An alien lizard-like being is in a ship, the very last fighting starship of our galaxy, against an invading race with many warships. A human is with him who is gifted but inexperienced, and he is terrified and hopeless. Not the lizard, though. He is thrilled! "I've always wanted to fight a battle against incredible odds!" he cries.

The inexperienced starfighter at the helm mourns. "It's going to be a slaughter!"

"That's the spirit!!!" the zealous lizard exuberantly shouts!

"No, I mean they'll slaughter us!"

The lizard's shoulders slump in dejection. "Oh," he says.

Here's my battle against incredible odds, life or death, in the hands of God.

I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will never die. ~Jesus Christ, from the Gospel of John, ch. 11


  1. Dear Paul,
    I jus read da latest good news, i'm so happy 4 u! Gramma says 2 tell u she's praying everyday 4 u & sends her luv 2 u. U no we have sumthing in common, i've been writing poems & short stories since i was a lil girl. Maybe sumday i'll share w/u & u can tell me wat u think? Aloooohaa!!

  2. That would be great, DeeDee. I'd love to see them.

    Tell Grandma I said hi, too! Despite not making it to Hawaii, I do miss her. I was so tiny when I lived there, just 5 or 6 years old, but I have many fond memories anyway.

  3. Dear Paul,
    Firsly, thank you so much for your blog, you're an inspiration! My darling partner Richard has just been diagnosed with BPDCN & we start chemo on Monday at Pretoria East Hospital under Dr Brittain who is a clinical heamotologist specialising in BMT/stem cells, in South Africa..I haven't read all your post yet but will do so over the weekend...keep the faith, i am praying for you too!!
    Your new South African friend,

  4. Wow. I'll certainly be praying Richard gets a donor quickly.

    I'll also pray he handles chemo well. Keep his spirits up, no matter what you have to do. He needs to do all the things he should do in advance: walking every day if possible, rinsing and keeping mouth clean with a soft brush, etc. A lot of the side effects can be minimized with care in advance.

    And keep me updated. You are welcome to email me. I don't like to post my email, but if you use the "contact me" page at, I'll email you back from there with my email address.

  5. will be praying. also check out apricot kernels. i eat a few everyday. look up "vitamin b17" and genesis 1:29-30.