The James P. Wilmot Cancer Center recently provided the first outpatient stem cell transplant in the Rochester area, a progressive move for a Bloomfield man who was able to recuperate at home, rather than in the hospital.
Marty Wheeler’s outpatient transplant was a first of its kind in the region and was possible because of constant communication between caregivers and Wheeler’s wife, Barbara, who oversaw his follow-up care at home.
The move opens the door for some people with cancer to receive the transplants without being hospitalized, said Gordon L. Phillips II, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Samuel E. Durand Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at the Wilmot Cancer Center, the only program in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region
“This is a significant step forward that we’ve been able to make because of the safety measures and support systems we’ve put in place for our patients,” Phillips said. He praised the program’s doctors, nurses and support staff for their work building systems to support future patients who can benefit from this.
Wheeler was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells, in January 2008 by Clifton Springs oncologist Bruce Yirinec, M.D. After a regimen of chemotherapy, Wheeler was referred to the Wilmot Cancer Center for his first autologous stem cell transplant in December 2008. Doctors used Wheeler’s own healthy cells, collected earlier, to perform the transplant.
“When we first came to the Wilmot Cancer Center we were very impressed with the team of people who met with us, reviewed the whole process and answered all of our questions,” Wheeler said.
He was hospitalized and “breezed through” that transplant with minimal side effects and was pleased to return to work quickly. He’s a member of the human resources team at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Wheeler’s disease returned and Wilmot Cancer Center doctors began preparing for a second transplant in April. It’s common practice for people with multiple myeloma to undergo tandem, or back-to-back, stem cell transplants, Phillips said.
“It was an ideal situation. He is a relatively healthy individual with a great home-based support system who had already done well with the first transplant,” he said. “Our team created a solid education program for them and was in constant contact to ensure that Mr. Wheeler progressed well.”
Heather Menchel, R.N., B.S.N., O.C.N., nurse manager for the Blood & Marrow Transplant Program, said there was a lot of responsibility for Barbara Wheeler, who took on the role of caretaker. She was constantly watching for signs of complications.
“We made it through because he’s got a great attitude,” Barbara Wheeler said of her husband. “And we agreed that although this is part of our life, it’s not going to take over all aspects of our lives.”
The Wilmot Cancer Center’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Center performs about 130 transplants per year and is the second largest program in New York, behind Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
People with a variety of cancers are able to get two types of transplants: autologous transplants using a person’s own stem cells or marrow removed previously or allogenic transplant using cells or marrow from a matched or an unrelated donor.
The program was launched in 1989 and the team has performed more than 2,000 transplants. The center has seen significant success, with 100-day survival rates exceeding national benchmarks in all categories for marrow and stem cell transplants.