Skip to Content

Publications

Profile: Jeff Headley

Conquest - Summer 2008


By Julie Penne

When Sgt. Jeff Headley of the Houston Police Department worked five weeks of 16-hour days on his feet at the Astrodome after tens of thousands of New Orleans residents sought shelter and assistance, he didn’t think too much of his fatigue and 40-pound weight loss.

But after working non-stop in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and then returning to his regular job in Criminal Investigations, it was helping at a church Christmas party that finally stopped him in his tracks.

“I had to go out to my car in the church parking lot and lie down. I just couldn’t move, I felt so bad, so light-headed,” Headley says. “I continued to feel like I had a bad case of the flu for a couple of days and missed some work. It was then that my wife insisted that I go to the doctor. Down deep, I knew it was time to go, too.”

Headley’s long-time physician found the 31-year-old officer and father of four young children had an enlarged spleen and elevated white blood cell count, later diagnosed as chronic mylogenous leukemia.

Headley took Gleevec, the standard and usually highly effective treatment for CML, for months after his diagnosis but the drug couldn’t force back the leukemia. Later, his physician switched him to dasatinib which showed some slow, but positive, impact on the disease.

When he decided it was time to look into bone marrow transplantation as an option, he called M. D. Anderson and Charles Koller, M.D., a leukemia specialist, who Headley knew rode in Houston Police Department bicycle rides benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Ironically, they were now teamed up again, but this time to battle the officer’s leukemia.

Headley arrived at M. D. Anderson on April 18, 2008, to begin high-dose chemotherapy in preparation for his bone marrow transplant. Seven days later, he received an unrelated bone marrow transplant from a donor who matched all 10 markers.

“I received a huge amount of bone marrow in my transplant — 800 ccs. My donor must have been really sore after they harvested his marrow,” Headley laughs.

The bone marrow began to graft immediately, but his old cells just “hung on and wouldn’t go away,” he says. As a result, he started needing blood transfusions, and that’s when the police department began organizing blood drives on his behalf. They also staged a poker tournament in which the entry fee was sick time contributed to Headley’s account; some 80 police officers signed up for the tournament. Officers also held a raffle for a tactical shotgun for members of law enforcement with proceeds benefiting the Headley family of six.

When Headley was released from the hospital after his transplant, it was his father, Lt. Ron Headley, a retired Houston SWAT commander, who took charge of his son’s aftercare. He and his son moved into a nearby apartment, paid for through another police benefit event, and began the long recovery post-transplant.

While her husband was recovering, Angie Headley cared for their four young children and supervised a house renovation that included tearing up all the carpeting, laying down tile and hardwood floors, and installing a HEPA filtration system — all this in preparation for her husband’s return home after his transplant when his immune system would be rebuilding. The renovations came at the generosity of hundreds of homeowners in the Tanglewood neighborhood of Houston, where Sgt. Headley was head of security and where his father previously had overseen security.

Soon, Jeff Headley will be returning to his spacious home in Tomball where sons Justin, 8, Jordan, 5, Jayden, 18 months, and daughter Alyssa, 3, will be waiting. He, Angie and their family look forward to returning to their church where they have found spiritual and physical support from so many.

“I can’t wait to get back home and continue showing my children the same affection and love that my dad showed me the entire time I was growing up — and now after my transplant,” Headley says. “We have a much different relationship now but he always lived his love for me. And that’s a terrific lesson for any father.”


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center