Stem Cell Transplant – Day One in the Tank

I will say that I approached the stem cell transplant process with some trepidation.  I did not and do not have any doubt that this is the best path for me.  All other options basically slow the inevitable to a crawl, at best.  Not acceptable if there is an alternative.  The stem cell transplant is a pretty rigorous procedure to undergo, but the end result is an

autoimmune system reset and an end to scleroderma.  No guarantees here, and there is a significant relapse rate, but the reward is worth the risk.  I also learned two days ago that the treatment protocol is being modified still further by adding Rituximab to the chemotherapy treatment that kills off my existing immune system.  And I respond well to Rituximab.

I’m here for two weeks this time.  The end result is a plastic pouch with 4 to 10 million of my stem cells that will be frozen until I return at the end of January for the actual transplant process.  The “recess” is to allow me to recover, because upon return they really clobber me with chemotherapy to kill off my existing malfunctioning immune system.  To me, it’s a little bit like calling a time out to ice the field goal kicker in football.  They give me a taste of what this is all about and then let me sit and think about it for a week or two before really getting into the weeds with six straight days of serious chemotherapy.

There is no way I’m backing out of this unless I’m thrown out, of course.  It must be the engineer in me, but there is a real cool factor to all of this that really intrigues me.  I’ll the eighteenth person in the world to undergo this particular “heart friendly” protocol as a part of this clinical trial.  The really good news is that the preceding 17 people all lived!  Not the case with earlier protocols.

As a closing side note, my wife Jill has a rare autoimmune disease called Wegener’s Disease.  Back in 1988 when she was diagnosed it was uniformly fatal.  We went to see a Dr. DeRamee at Mayo Clinic as one of the experts in this almost unknown disease.  He offered us two options.  One was the standard treatment in use at the time that only offered to slow the progression.  Or we could opt for a new protocol introduced by Dr. Wegener in Germany.  Jill would be the eighteenth person in the world to be placed on this antibiotic protocol, but it showed very good promise.  We elected the new protocol.  Jill is here and thriving nearly 30 years later.  As an engineer, superstition is not my thing, but I like the confluence of our paths right now.

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