Judge turns to cord blood stem cells to help in cancer fight
Posted October 14, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — A North Carolina Superior Court judge fighting blood cancer says he is still hopeful that he will find a bone marrow donor but says his strategy has changed.
Carl Fox, 61, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome last April. Doctors found that he was losing weight and energy because his bone marrow had stopped producing healthy blood cells.
Due to low participation among black people, there is only a 60 to 65 percent chance that black patients can find a matching donor, compared with an 80 to 85 percent chance for white people.
Fox says his hopes now rest with the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. He began a planned, month-long stay in North Carolina Cancer Hospital on Sept. 25. He has endured intense chemotherapy to kill what was left of his immune system, followed by stem cell transfusions.
The stem cells were not from a perfect bone marrow donor match, as with a sibling. Nor were they from an imperfect match with an unrelated donor; none were found. However, a cord blood stem cell match was found. It's the blood retrieved from the placenta and umbilical cord of newborn babies.
Dr. Tom Shea, director of UNC's Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant program, says a cord blood match is the third best option.
“(It) still can cure a number of patients but are often associated with a little bit more toxicity,” Shea said.
The cord blood stem cell infusions began Oct. 1. Fox said he was excited about taking the big step forward in his fight.
“In my mind, I think, in most people's minds, if you're not doing something, it's not even like you're just standing still and keep the status quo. Cancer doesn't stop,” Fox said. “I'm hoping that through this, I can be cancer free and go on with my life.”
If you are interested in being a bone marrow donor, you can register online at DeleteBloodCancer.org. You can also participate in a bone marrow drive this Saturday at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan Memorial Stadium from 4 to 7 p.m. outside the stadium and inside the stadium until 9 p.m.