One year ago today, Beth had her stem cell transplant

On December 14, 2011, my wife, half-dead from a fight with leukemia, “intensive chemotherapy” and full-body radiation, received a new infusion of adult stem cells from a young female donor in Europe. She became radically sick – somehow she got hold of a MRSA infection in her blood; later she had other viral infections that nearly cost her life. She spent the better part of three months in the hospital. You can read more about this struggle in the pages below.

She is still weak, and doesn’t have the energy to do much at all. Her immune system perceives her body as “foreign”, and so she is still taking some anti-rejection medications, which keep the immune system suppressed. So she’s still susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. She is looking forward with great anticipation to celebrating Christmas with her family. In another few months, they’ll start to give her the full cycle of baby vaccinations.

In a series of “Chimerism” tests which measure the level of the donor’s DNA vs her own DNA in her blood cells, she has consistently been “100% donor in all three cell lines”. That indicates no sign that the leukemia is coming back. The longer she shows such results, the closer she comes to being declared “cured” (a happy event which happens after two years).

The best news of all is that, over the last year, she has come to a new understanding of how the Lord Jesus Christ saves us in spite of anything else we might do to help or hurt that process, and is becoming deeply engaged in the life of our church.

Again, I’d like to thank all of you who helped us through this very demanding time with your prayers and your support.

We’re going to have to sit on pins and needles for a bit

Not a typical urinary tract infection

This is serious enough to be concerned about it. I mentioned that Beth has tested positive for two viral infections. I’ve got an inquiry into the doctor, but it seems to me that, while they are treating these things aggressively, they can become serious enough to cause serious worry.

BK Virus: “BKV is a particular problem. BKV is a human polyoma virus that is ubiquitous in the environment and infects children at an early age. Although the most effective treatment has not been established, there has been some success with antiviral agents such as cidofovir and vidarabine. Preventive methods include mesna (2-mercaptopurine sodium sulfonate) combined with forced diuresis and continuous bladder irrigation.” An earlier journal says: “Mesna and forced diuresis are equally effective in abrogating the urothelial toxicity of preparative regimens for BMT. Since HC after BMT is virtually always associated with persistent BK viruria, strategies aimed at the prevention or elimination of viruria in BK seropositive recipients are warranted.”

CMV Virus: “As a consequence, T-cell chimerism after BMT should give a positive prognosis with respect to control of CMV.”

She seems to be covered with respect to the T-cell chimerism; as for BK, she’s got the urinary tract infection symptoms, and also, orange urine. They are giving her lots of IV fluids. On top of this, she’s got the old MRSA infection (at least it’s present enough for them to bring out the yellow gowns), and so it seems as if we’re going to have to sit on pins and needles for a bit.

One more week in the MSSU

We got the first weekend “off” since Beth began her treatments early in December. She got to stay home Saturday and Sunday, while home health workers (RNs) came to the house and took care of her treatment. It was the first time we didn’t have to pack into the car and head down to West Penn. She’s still got about another week’s worth of MSSU — she still needs to receive another five or six day’s worth of the antibiotic she’s been taking for her MRSA infection. That seems to be the big reason to get down there.

Too, she’s having another bone marrow biopsy tomorrow. From that will come the bone marrow tissue used to do the Chimerism test, which will be our first look at how the “graft” is doing. We have evidence that it’s working because her white blood cell count is way up, but doctors want to see how much of the old bone marrow is left — in theory, it can’t continue to grow or make leukemic blood cells because it should have been “destroyed” in the “conditioning” phase of chemo and radiation. But some of it may be left around. And of course, the “graft-vs-host” effect should be continuing to mop it up.

Generally, I take Beth down there in the mornings, and our oldest son Jeremy has been picking her up.

A visit from the Infectious Disease Doctor

The Infectious Disease doctor dropped by around 8:00 am, and looked at Beth and talked with her.

I mentioned below that there was some possibility that the source of infection may have come from the stem cells, but that has been ruled out. The cultures that they took of the stem cells are still negative. So that leaves the catheter as a culprit. They will replace that line on Monday, and do some further tests to confirm or rule out that it was the source of infection.

It is a MRSA infection – that is, a “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type (strain) of staph bacteria that does not respond to some antibiotics that are commonly used to treat staph infections.” Beth had some positive tests for this in an earlier hospital visit. Because she had worked in a nursing home, it is likely that she became exposed to the infection there, and just retained it in her body. They are giving her the antibiotic Vancomycin, and a fairly hefty dosage of it, which is more than capable of handling this infection.

The kids (the three youngest) will be spending the weekend with my brother. I’ve brought a stack of books to the hospital, and a stack of DVD movies. I’m here for the duration.