When Kim Case was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, doctors told her she had little chance of survival.
Months later when she was recovering from the disease, they changed their tune.
“The doctors called me their miracle patient,” Case said.
Case, who lives in Gaston, Ore. with her husband, Jay — who’s originally from Monmouth — was diagnosed in August 2004 with a rare form of cancer called NK T-cell lymphoma.
“I’m the only caucasian American to have had it,” said Case, a secretary and former substitute teacher.
The form of cancer is more common in Asia and the survival rate is minimal.
“I was willing to do anything,” Case, 48, said.
Stem cells serve “as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
After a spinal tap that was testing a mini transplant with her own stem cells, doctors found the cancer had spread to other parts of her body. An adult stem cell donation was the next option.
Adult stem cells have been identified in many organs and tissues, according to the NIH. They can remain dormant for long period of time, “until they are activated by a normal need for more cells to maintain tissues, or by disease or tissue injury.”
The biggest worry for Kim and her family was finding a donor.
“These things usually take six months to a year,” she said. “I had found a donor within a week.”
Doug Cokinis, a 42-year-old married father from North Aurora, had seen a sign asking for donations and was a 100 percent match for Kim.
Kim, Jay and her caregiver, her 21-year-old son Bobby, had to move to Seattle, Wash. for the transplant.
Jay, a semi-retired contractor, bought a new truck and was making the three and a half hour trip back and forth from Oregon to Seattle every weekend for a three-month period.
“I put about 12,000 miles on the truck during that time,” he said.
After another chemotherapy session, the stem cell transplant took place in October 2004.
It took about a month before Kim re-gained some strength.
“It was a gradual, slow process,” she said. “I had to walk three or four times around my room without stopping before being allowed to leave the hospital.”
Able to leave the hospital after 52 days, Kim stayed in Seattle to go back in for occasional tests.
“They gave her a list of things she’d have problems with for the rest of her life,” Jay said.
So, the short period of time after that was nothing short of remarkable.
She was able to return home in February 2005, cancer free. She regularly had blood draws to make sure the cancer had not returned.
By June 2005, she was able to stop taking medication for side effects from cancer. She hasn’t taken any medication since then – something unheard of in cancer patients.
Kim maintained a positive attitude during her fight to conquer the disease.
“I really didn’t feel sick … I wasn’t ready to die,” she said.
The attitude had an effect on the nurses taking care of her as well.
A nurse brought her gifts one day because she “was always smiling.”
Kim and Jay encourage people to donate adult stem cells if they’re able. They said the process is easy. Those interested in donating should contact the main chapter of Red Cross (800) 733-2767.
“It’s an easy process,” Kim said. “They take blood to test for diseases. Once that’s clear, they put you on a list. Once they find a match, they give you shots to take for the cells to reproduce at a faster rate … most don’t know what to an adult stem cell transplant is, it’s not like a bone marrow transplant.”
Though adult stem cells differ from embryonic stem cells, Kim was supportive of embryonic stem cell research.
“I think the research is helping,” she said. “It’s amazing what it could do.”
She was also able to meet her donor recently.
“He started e-mailing me and we talked on the Internet for awhile,” she said. “We finally met in person. His daughter calls me Aunt Kim … he and his family are planning to visit us in Oregon sometime, too,” she said.
Considering all that had happened to her, Kim took no time in answering whether or not she thought her experience was, in fact, a miracle.
“One hundred percent miracle,” she said.
from Review atlas