When you are sick, most people just want to be home. When Gary Bunevitch was sick and told he would need to spend at least 45 days in a hospital three-hours away, his wife decided to look for a solution that was closer to home and that’s when she found the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at UofL Hospital.
Instead of 45 days, Gary spent just 18 days in room 617 at UofL Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Center, only a 20-minute drive from the Bunevitchs’ home in Prospect, Ky. Not only did they find a solution closer to home but they found a progressive and innovative program that is a part of the nationally renowned UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center.
During the fall of 2015, Gary began to feel ill and show unusual symptoms. The glands in his neck were swollen, his tongue and mouth was swollen, he had blood blisters in his mouth, and experienced sore back muscles. After seeing his primary care physician, an oral pathologist and otolaryngologists, the initial blood work and a biopsy were inconclusive.
A bone marrow biopsy and fat pad biopsy revealed Gary had amyloidosis, a unique condition resulting from the toxic protein, amyloid, produced by cancer cells related to myeloma.
Amyloidosis occurs when amyloid builds up in your organs. For Gary, the amyloid had already spread to several areas including his kidneys. He needed a bone marrow transplant.
Gary and his wife, Maggie, visited a physician who specializes in myeloma and amyloid, but the drive was three hours long. After several visits beginning to plan for a bone marrow transplant, the couple found out they would need to stay in/near the hospital for 45 days. Maggie knew there had to be a better option and started researching online.
Maggie hoped to find somewhere and someone equally qualified but close to home. That’s when she discovered the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at UofL Hospital and UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center. “Who would have guessed that it was right in our backyard,” Maggie said.
Their physician set up an appointment in May with Dr. William Tse, an oncologist specializing in bone marrow transplant at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center. “Gary’s oncologist told us Dr. Tse is amazing – and it’s true. At our first appointment, Dr. Tse spent more than two hours with us asking and answering questions. We’ve never had a doctor spend that much time with us,” Maggie said.
“We fell in love with this man. He gave us his business card and his personal cell phone number. Nobody does that.”
After a little more than a month of preparation, which included collecting his healthy stem cells and storing them in a freezer, Gary was admitted to the hospital for a stem cell transplant.
Chemotherapy before the stem cell transplant killed Gary’s cancer cells in the bone marrow and re-infused his own stem cells back to his body.
“The nurses were amazing. We weren’t just another patient – they made us feel important and like we mattered,” Maggie said. “I met wonderful people everywhere – the halls, the elevators. The treatment is hard on the entire family but there was more warmth at the hospital than I’d felt in a long time. Plus, I could stay at home, do what I needed to do, feed the cat, and still visit Gary every day driving just 11 miles from our house,” Maggie said.
Gary said, “When you’re in the hospital, the care really matters. For patients like me who have a tough chemo treatment, it basically kills you and they try to revive you again, but through it all the team of nurses were amazing.
“An attitude of putting patients first is infused in Dr. Tse and the whole team – nurses, nurse practitioners, assistant pharmacists, social worker, psychologist, dietitian, the person cleaning the room, and everyone. It’s something you don’t necessarily see elsewhere. The bone marrow transplant facility here is a real jewel. I’m proud to be a patient at UofL Hospital.”
Gary was discharged after 18 days in the hospital and able to recover in the comfort of his home.
Gary said, “When you have a 100-day recovery, you just want to be home. Maggie and I drive 11 miles from Prospect a couple of times a week and it’s not that big of a deal because I’m home. It’s much better than driving so far and having to stay away from home during that time.”
“Without the care I received at UofL, I would have three to five years to live… but I want to hang out a little longer. The team at Brown Cancer Center has given me that chance.”
About the Bone Marrow Transplant Program
The Bone Marrow Transplant Program at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center and UofL Hospital recently expanded and renovated their patient areas. The program is now located at:
• UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center for infusion services
• UofL Hospital for inpatient oncology and ICU, which was renovated and opened in October
• UofL Ambulatory Care Building third floor clinic for outpatient physician visits
The program is one of the first bone marrow transplantation programs in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, established by Dr. Roger Herzig in 1988, and is also one of the very first such programs in the surrounding states and in the nation.
The program has received an excellent accreditation record from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). It offers the latest hematopoietic stem cell transplantation approaches by using related, unrelated, and umbilical cord stem cell sources for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma patients. The division’s renowned translational research scientists also conduct a score of cutting-edge researches under the NIH, and receive support to promote and speed-up bench research discoveries to benefit patient care.
Clinical faculty members are supported by an outstanding group of nurses, social workers, medical assistants, pharmacologists, psychologists, nutrition specialists, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, physiatrists, multi-specialty consultants, and hematopoietic stem cell processing personnel at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center and UofL Hospital.
Cutline: Gary Bunevitch, center, is thankful for the care he received from the Bone Marrow Transplant Program team at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center and UofL Hospital. From left: Dr. William Tse, director of the program; Dr. Maxwell Krem, attending physician; Bunevitch; Lainey Courtney, physician assistant; and Lindsay Figg, pharmacist.