Avera Medical Minute: Advancements in technology benefit transplant patients

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - Back in 2014, over Memorial Weekend, Joe Carmody's life changed forever.

"I went to my primary care doctor, who was an Avera doctor, as well," he said. "And I had a pinched nerve in my back. It was 6:30 in the morning on a Friday and by 4:30 I was admitted with ALL, it's acute lymphoblastic leukemia."

Because of Joe's age, ALL is considered high-risk. So, after eight rounds of chemotherapy, his cancer was mostly gone. Then, Joe received a bone marrow transplant.

Several months later, something changed, Joe was diagnosed with graft versus host disease.

"Graft versus host for lack of a better description it dries everything in your body out," Carmody said.

"This is where the immune system of the donor attacks the patient, which caused severe, devastating consequences," Dr. Vinod Parameswaran, Avera hematology and transplant physician, said. "We rely on the immune cells from the donor to kill cancer, that's the whole premise."

With the disease, Joe developed several infections, sores on his legs, and neuropathy. Eventually, he couldn't walk.

But, for Joe, technology is advancing, and they were able to use a clinical trial drug that changed his life completely. The sores that were once on his legs from the disease are gone, and he is now able to put socks and boots on.

Now, Joe can walk thanks to the help of Avera doctors again. And that's not the only technology advancement doctors have made.

Five years ago, there was a 20-40% risk for graft versus host disease after a bone marrow transplant. Now, newer approaches and better medication has caused the appearance of the illness to go down dramatically.

"So, it is unlikely that patients in the future, may have to go through what Joe has gone through," Dr. Parameswaran said.

Joe continues to fight his disease, but doesn't want others to be discouraged or nervous to get a bone marrow transplant.

"They struggle to find matches," he said. "So, I would say if you are a happy, healthy individual and you feel the need to make an impact in someone's life. I wouldn't be sitting here today had that woman not donated.

Now, at 42 Joe Carmody wants to provide a positive impact on patients and advocate for both technological advancements and overall cancer health.

For more information visit avera.org.