Posted by reporter Ed Friedrich:
Dan Ackerson’s blood saved Mike Myers’ life.
Doctors told Myers he had a 5 percent chance to live after three types of chemotherapy barely fazed his acute myeloid leukemia, diagnosed Nov. 11, 2010. The cancer is characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.
Myers never flinched.
“I told them that doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “That’s just a percentage. That means I’ve got a 5 percent chance of living, and I’m going to be in that 5 percent. They believed me. Now they believe me a lot.”
Bone marrow transplants are a last gasp. A patient undergoes chemotherapy and radiation to destroy the bad cells. In a healthy body, bone marrow makes young cells called stem cells. A donor’s are injected into the patient’s blood stream and grow and develop in the bone marrow. From the transplanted cells, the body resumes producing blood cells and develops an immune system.
It generally takes several months to find a good donor.
“They were hoping I’d make it into October so I could actually get the bone marrow transplant. I was really weak,” said Myers, who had dwindled from 190 to 130 pounds.
Myers, of Poulsbo, entered Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s unrelated donor search program. Ackerson, a Navy doctor, had signed up years earlier for the Department of Defense bone marrow registry. Within five weeks, they were matched.
“Typically this is a last-resort type thing,” said Ackerson, who flew from an assignment in Germany to the East Coast for the procedure.
“He probably would not be alive if he had not found a match, not that I’m the only match.”
Myers got the transplant on Oct. 7, 2011. He continued to receive “chemo lite” until a few weeks ago. Healthy cells replaced cancerous ones. He slowly began to gain weight. In October 2012, doctors declared him clear of his disease. Formerly with O-positive blood, he now was fully flowing Ackerson’s A-plus type. Six weeks ago, a biopsy showed no sign of disease and he was taken off chemotherapy. On Nov. 14 he enjoyed his first normal blood test in three years, and was released to go places other than a hospital or clinic.
The men have never met. They’re not allowed to exchange contacts until a year after the transplant. There are similarities. Myers, 54, served 21 1/2 years in the Navy, all but one of them in the Kitsap area. He was a fire control technician on submarines. Ackerson, 50, is a Navy family practice doctor, now in Jacksonville, Fla. Both are family men. Myers has a wife Debbie and two grown children.
They look forward to getting together, though Myers can’t travel long distances yet. They keep in touch by phone and computer.
“He’s got a very positive outlook and sounds like he’s doing quite well,” Ackerson said. “If he’s doing as well as he says he is, I think he’ll be just fine.”
Myers is grateful, and told his donor that at Thanksgiving.
“He is basically trusting me with his DNA,” he said. “My blood is his. It’s identical to his blood.”
Myers wants to stay close with Ackerson and spend some time together.
Ackerson urges others to get registered. He had to go in for a few shots to stimulate the marrow to create more stem cells, then wait eight hours while it’s filtered.
“A lot of people should do this,” he said. “The larger the number of people you have in the program, the higher likelihood you’ll find a match for somebody who needs it. I just think it’s a good thing to help our fellow man.”
Myers, up to 162 pounds, wants to return soon to his job with Electric Boat as a configuration manager for Trident submarines.