When I tell people I have leukemia the typical response is an immediate gasp, and then a statement like "I'm so sorry."
I then explain that I'm one of the fortunate people who is now able to live, and live well, with this blood cancer. It wasn't always that way. Leukemia used to be an automatic death sentence. One of the developments that has changed the way leukemia is treated, and has saved lives, is bone marrow transplantation.
Dr. E. Donnall Thomas of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle is a medical visionary. Working in the basement of temporary facilities in Seattle 40 years ago, Thomas tried something many thought wouldn't work. He tried to cure leukemia, and other blood cancers, by destroying a patient's diseased bone marrow with near-lethal doses of radiation and chemotherapy and then rescuing the patient by transplanting healthy marrow. The goal: to establish a fully functioning and cancer-free blood and immune system.
Today, bone-marrow transplantation is considered one of the world's most significant medical advances. The technique has enabled many people, who previously had a zero percent chance of survival, to recover their health and lives.
I saw this life-saving treatment first hand when I was a patient in the Bone Marrow Transplant Center at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. Although I did not have a transplant myself, I know that at some point in the future, if my current treatment stops working, I could be a transplant candidate. It is difficult to put into words how much it means to know that the option, and the hope it brings, is available for me and for others.
Dr. Thomas received the 1990 Nobel Prize in medicine for this lifesaving work. Although he's retired, he's still an active man, and on March 15 will be 90 years old. His home state of Washington has declared March 15 as Dr. E. Donnall Thomas Day and hospital colleagues are holding a special birthday party.
If you, or someone you love, has benefited from a bone marrow transplant, you may want to send this remarkable man a birthday wish. A special web page has been set up for this at https://is-ext.fhcrc.org/open/guestbook/thomas/
A warning: Reading the comments in the guest book may bring tears to your eyes as people who are now alive today because of this man have sent some incredible greetings and photos.
Happy Birthday Dr. Thomas, and thank you.
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