Strong Network Keeps BMT Patient on the Road to Recovery
It started with feeling generally unwell. Then, Tom Koepnick noticed a rapid drop in his stamina. He was enjoying post-retirement volunteer work at the Library of Congress and National Archives when everything came to a screeching halt in November 2015.
Tests confirmed that Tom had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This form of blood cancer can spread quickly and, if not treated, often is fatal in a short period. More screening tests indicated that the best treatment approach would be a bone marrow transplant, after a standard course of chemotherapy.
His daughter Becky recommended the Medstar Georgetown Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Program because of its reputation as a leader in transplant medicine. As the only adult academic bone marrow transplant (BMT) program in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the program gives high-risk patients access to life-saving treatment options not otherwise available. Just five months after his diagnosis in April 2016, Tom received a bone marrow transplant.
“I am fortunate that my 34-year-old son was able to be my bone marrow donor. Everyone in my immediate and extended family was eager to help,
but my son turned out to be the best match and the most logical candidate,” says Tom.
Since the transplant, Tom describes his recovery as having ups and downs typical of a standard transplant treatment regime to help restore his health. Despite dealing with medication side effects, a several hospital visits to evaluate kidney function, and struggling with commonplace illnesses like colds that are more troublesome for transplant patients who have lower thresholds for infection, Tom says he’s now feeling much better.
“Recovery is not a smooth path. It’s an ordeal that lasts a couple of years. There are detours along the way. I made it through because I’ve had a good support network. I am grateful to all who have helped me, my family, friends and neighbors, and my medical team,” he says.
Tom says his transplant physician, Dr. Pashna Munshi, and Dr. Scott Rowley, director of the MedStar Georgetown’s hematopoietic stem cell transplantation services, with Dr. David Vesole, director of the Myeloma Program, his hematologist/oncologist Dr. Chaitra Ujjani and the BMT nursing staff did everything they could to keep his spirits up.
“The impact of a cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery is unlike anything a person will encounter. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms. Tom took each turn of his cancer experience in stride and worked hard to keep his focus on life after his transplant,” says Dr. Munshi.
For others who may face a similar diagnosis and treatment, Tom offers some advice.
“Your state of mind is really the most important thing,” he says.
- Be optimistic and cooperative.
- Seek and use support and information from people who have had similar treatments.
- Don’t isolate yourself.
- Use your network outside of the hospital to socialize as you recover.
“You have an obligation to see this through the best way you can because of your support network and all the people who have tried to help you heal,” says Tom.