Fifty-six days ago, Lowell Tye got a new load of bone marrow, clean stuff, from his younger sister.
Tye, the first patient at the University Hospital's new bone marrow transplant center, is now recovering at his Taylorsville home.In 1989, Tye, 36, discovered he had multiple myeloma, a rare, aggressive kind of cancer most often found in people in their 60s or 70s. The disease is a cancer of the bone marrow and there is no cure without a transplant, said Dr. Patrick Beatty, head of the new bone marrow transplant center.
Since Tye's successful transplant, the U. has performed two others. And Beatty said doctors plan to perform as many as 50 to 70 transplants per year.
Such transplants have been performed for 20 years. But Tye's story is unusual, as he is one of only about 20 people with multiple myeloma to receive a transplant. That's because most of the cancer victims are much older and sicker. "He is adding to our knowledge," Beatty said.
When the disease was diagnosed, Tye and his wife, Ann, were told there was little hope. At best, the father of five was given five years to live.
"I kept wanting to wake up," Ann Tye said. "I kept thinking, `This can't be for real.' "
"I just couldn't believe I was as sick as the doctors were telling me," Tye said. In fact, just a week before he checked into the hospital, he was out playing basketball with his troop of Boy Scouts.
He was selected for a transplant because he was so healthy and because his youngest sister, Maryanne Tye, 26, was found to have a near exact marrow match. Beatty said there's a 25 percent chance a sibling will have matching blood marrow. That's why Utah's big families make a good donor pool.
Tye's siblings - his brother and five of his sisters - fought for the chance to help him. "It really was like who won the lottery to get to do this for him," Ann Tye said.
Before the transplant, Tye received a dose of chemotherapy so potent that it killed his cancerous bone marrow. "The tricky part is receiving this very high dose of chemotherapy," Beatty said.
Tye agreed. "They took me to the edge of death. Without the new bone marrow, I would have died. It's not a walk in the park, but it's a risk that we decided to take."
Then, blood marrow, a fluid that is a shade darker than blood, was injected into the blood system. "The bone marrow cells circulate through the blood system. They know where they're supposed to end up," Beatty said.
While the new marrow is growing, a patient is susceptible to infections. The patient can reject the bone marrow graft, or the graft can reject the patient. A rejection is most likely to occur when the donor and patient are unrelated, Beatty said.
But Tye has been a model patient, and now he'll recover at home. He's getting better, but he expects it will be another five months before he's back to work, managing a small manufacturing company in Midvale.
Tye has lost his hair because of the chemotherapy and about 11/2 inches of height, thanks to compressed bones. But he's not complaining, not even about the mask he wears in public to ward off germs.
"I don't even care about the hair," Ann Tye said. "I'm used to it. He looks good."
Because of the cost of the transplant, a fund has been set up at Zions Bank to help defray the medical expenses. Donations can be made to the Lowell Tye Bone Marrow Transplant Fund.