Bonded by a stem cell transplant, leukemia survivor and his donor become family for life
Curt Bogard recalls first being more tired than usual during a father and son road trip from Texas to the northeast corner of Maine. When Curt’s wife, Trisha, spoke with him on the phone, she could tell he was not his usual self.
“I told my daughter-in-law that I had to fly home immediately to check on him,” recalls Trisha, who was visiting family in Florida at the time. When she arrived, she noticed Curt’s abdomen was swollen and he was noticeably in pain. Curt saw his primary care physician, who referred him to a local oncologist. Additional testing would later reveal he had acute myelomonocytic leukemia (AMML), a rare type of acute myeloid leukemia.
MD Anderson provides hope after initial AMML treatment proves unsuccessful
Curt was admitted to a Dallas area hospital on Oct. 16, 2015, Trisha’s birthday.
“I was optimistic at first, and then I began to get weaker and weaker,” Curt says. “I found myself discouraged as time passed.” Curt received multiple blood transfusions and an intense chemotherapy regimen. He spent several days in the intensive care unit.
He spent nearly six months in the hospital, but doctors couldn’t get the cancer into remission.
Curt made the tough decision to go home, but Trisha refused to give up on her husband. Once home, she went online and requested an appointment at MD Anderson. The next day, they received a call to travel to Houston for an appointment and the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial.
“This was a full circle moment to have the opportunity to come to MD Anderson,” Trisha explains. “We knew this was the best place to be because of our time in Houston in the 1970s when Curt attended The University of Texas Dental School, which at that time was next to the original MD Anderson hospital.”
Clinical trial makes stem cell transplant possible
Curt came to MD Anderson in April 2016 and was under the care of leukemia specialist Farhad Ravandi-Kashani, M.D. A week after he arrived, Curt began treatment in a clinical trial investigating the use of azacytidine and nivolumab.
Curt was finally in remission after one month of treatment and could receive a stem cell transplant. “Stem cell transplants provide the best curative potential in a person considered fit and able to receive it,” Ravandi-Kashani notes. “I knew once we achieved remission, this should be the next step in his treatment plan.”
Finding a stem cell donor
Before Curt came to MD Anderson, the couple’s three sons were all tested to see if they would match their father. All three sons only matched him at 50%. To the Bogards’ surprise, a stem cell donor with a 100% genetic match was found.
“The higher the percentage of matching, the better the outcomes with disease control,” says stem cell transplantation specialist Gheath Al-Atrash, M.D. “This also lowers the risk of toxicities, especially graft versus host disease, which can cause major problems after the transplant.”
Al-Atrash completed Curt’s stem cell transplant on July 12, 2016. After the transplant, the couple stayed in Houston for three months so Curt could be closely monitored by his care team.
An anonymous donor’s decision to donate bone marrow for Curtis’ stem cell transplant
From the moment Curt learned a donor had been found, he was eager to meet this selfless individual.
A native of Maine, Thea Champlin, now 33, signed up to be a bone marrow donor when she was 20 while attending a baseball game in Boston.
“I initially thought it was a lemonade stand when I approached the table,” Thea recalls. “However, the representatives quickly cleared that up and encouraged me to sign up to become a bone marrow donor,” Thea says. Nearly six years later, she received a call from the registry program to discuss moving forward as a donor.
“My mother is a cancer survivor, so I was aware of the benefits of a stem cell transplant and was encouraged to move forward with the process to help someone else,” Thea adds. “I went through a range of emotions when I received the call because this was a big decision to make.”
Nine months after receiving the call, she arrived at a hospital in New Yorkto donate bone marrow for Curtis. He received his transplant the next day.
Meeting his match
For the next year, Curt and Thea exchanged anonymous letters until they were able to have their names and contact information shared with each other.
The Bogards flew to Maine to meet Thea and her family for the first time in 2017. Their time together consisted of family dinners, learning more about Thea and sharing stories of the donation journey. “They are truly the sweetest people, and I’m so grateful to have them in my life,” Thea says.
The Bogards invited Thea to visit Texas for the first time and to spend time with them in Galveston for a weekend this past February. Before heading down to the beach, the Bogards and Thea stopped at MD Anderson for an appointment and met Dr. Al-Atrash and his team.
“At first, I had no idea how blessed I was to have a donor that matched me 100%,” Curt says. “There are no words to explain the gratitude in my heart for her sacrifice and the work of my clinical team for giving me this additional time to be with my family and friends.”
The Bogards and Thea have formed a special bond over the last seven years and talk regularly. “I’m so thankful for Thea and love her like a granddaughter,” Curt says.
His stem cell transplant continues to give him more time with his loved ones. These days he spends his time traveling with his wife, watching his grandchildren and being active in his church.
“Mr. Bogard has been a success story. He is now seven years out from a stem cell transplant with no evidence of AMML,” Al-Atrash says. “And most importantly, he is living a normal life with no toxicities from the transplant. This is the best outcome we can hope for!”