DUARTE, Calif.--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--As stem cells from an anonymous volunteer donor began to restore life to William Fuller, who received City of Hope’s 10,000th bone marrow transplant on Jan. 13, 2011, his nurse wished him “Happy Birthday,” signaling the beginning of his new life. This week Fuller achieved another major milestone in his battle against cancer, being released from the hospital that has been his home for almost a month. Fuller, his doctors, and his sister met with reporters at City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital to mark the occasion.
“It hit me really hard. If something’s going to happen to him I’m going to fight and make sure I did everything I could.”
“I am very humbled by this experience,” Fuller told reporters. “Being able to stand here is living proof that this system of medicine does work. It’s a testament to a lot of hard work and research. I want to especially say thank you to my donor, who made a selfless choice to help a stranger. Someday I hope to meet him, and shake hands and say ‘thank you.’”
Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation – collectively known as hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) - is a complex, lifesaving procedure in which stem cells are used to help cure patients of their cancer. City of Hope helped pioneer this specialty, performing one of the nation’s first bone marrow transplants nearly 35 years ago. Since then, City of Hope has helped transplantation evolve into the gold standard for treating diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Each year, the institution performs more than 500 transplants.
“Mr. Fuller is the poster child for what we do,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and chair of the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “There are thousands of other people like him who have been helped because a donor came forward to provide lifesaving stem cells that allowed us to do a transplant and hopefully cure the disease. Every patient who gets through a transplant here is the beneficiary of a lot of laboratory work and hard thinking that’s gone into trying to solve the problem – how to best cure the cancer in the safest way possible.”
Born in Belize, Fuller came to Los Angeles in 1982, and eventually started a small home electronics repair business. In January 2008, the father of three began having night sweats, unrelenting fatigue and dropped 50 pounds. He was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and eventually sought treatment at City of Hope. Although CML patients usually respond favorably to medications like Gleevec, these drugs often do not provide a lasting cure.
Fuller credited his sister, Karen Hyde, as being instrumental in arranging bone marrow drives in California, Florida and New York with the help of “Be the Match,” the national marrow donor program.
“When my brother was diagnosed he was told he had six to nine months to live,” said Hyde. “It hit me really hard. If something’s going to happen to him I’m going to fight and make sure I did everything I could.” She praised the “enormous outpouring” of people who came to the drives. “I encourage everyone who’s out there who’s looking for a donor to just keep on fighting.”
Fuller and Hyde knew finding a donor would be challenging given his mixed ancestry so their drives reached out to people of Belizean, Caribbean and Mayan descent. Remarkably, three donors with an exact genetic match were found and Fuller was transplanted Jan. 13 with lifesaving cells from one of them.
Forman said that many of his patients view their donors as new members of their family, and often develop lifelong relationships.
“They are ‘blood relatives,’” he said.
About City of Hope
City of Hope is a leading research, treatment and education center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Designated as a comprehensive cancer center, the highest honor bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, and a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, City of Hope's research and treatment protocols advance care throughout the nation. City of Hope is located in Duarte, Calif., just northeast of Los Angeles, and is ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” in cancer and urology by U.S. News & World Report. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a pioneer in the fields of bone marrow transplantation and genetics. For more information, visit www.cityofhope.org or follow City of Hope on facebook, twitter, youtube or flickr.