Leukemia is a Blood Cancer. "Leukemia is cancer in a molten liquid form." (Emperor of All Maladies 2010) There are 4 broad types of leukemia, but they all begin in a cell in the bone marrow. The bone marrow has two basic functions: 1. to produce new blood cells, and 2. to produce lymphocytes, which are an essential component of the immune system. The four types of leukemia are:
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
Eric had AML.
At the point of diagnosis in December 2011 over 80% of his blood cells were immature 'blast cells' that were crowding out his 'good' blood cells. But, the complications do not end there because there are many, many different types of AML depending where on the gene there is a mutation or translocation. (See recent Boston Globe article about the genetic typing of AML completed at Dana Farber.)
Intensive chemotherapy managed by Dr. Richard Stone got Eric into initial remission from the AML. But, leukemia is very tricky and residual leukemic cancer cells lurk in the bone marrow. There is almost always a resurgence of the AML. Multiple doctors thought that Eric's path to a cure was with a Stem Cell Transplant, which would provide a new immune system to attack the leukemia.
Click Here to Learn More about Leukemia. LLS.org
Stem Cell Transplants are a treatment for many types of cancer. Initially there is very intensive chemotherapy to destroy the bone marrow and then the new stem cells are provided. The hope is that the donated immune system attacks the lurking leukemia cells in what is called a 'Graft vs. Tumor' effect.
Eric had a "perfect" 10 out of 10 match. On the evening of March 15, 2012 his matched stem cells flew into Boston Logan airport from Europe. They were immediately brought to the Dana Farber and processed. The actual transplant is very simple, just like a blood transfusion. By midnight that night, Eric had his stem cell transplant. At the time, we thought of it as almost a 'new' birthday.
But, things went terribly wrong for Eric. His donated immune system attacked antibodies on his skin. This is called Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD). Even with all his dedication, medical knowledge, and compassion Dr. Vincent Ho could not keep Eric's vulnerable system balanced on the tightrope. Eric died of serious multiple infections.
Click Here to Learn More about Stem Cell Transplants. BeTheMatch.org