Tuesday, April 3, was “Day Zero,” the first of 100 very crucial days for Dr. Cecil Knox, the former pain management and rehabilitative specialist from Roanoke.
By then, he’d been through more than a week of efforts by physicians in Charlottesville to kill off every last morsel of his immune system. They injected him with poisons and beamed him head to toe with intense radiation.
It was all a precursor to a risky stem cell transplant at the University of Virginia to replace Knox’s failing bone marrow.
Finally, his white blood cell count was zero-point-zero, which means Knox had no immune system left at all.
“Somewhere between the funeral and the burial service, they rescue you,” he told me.
Next, specialists infused Knox with stem cells culled from the umbilical cord blood of two newborn baby girls.
In layman’s terms, the days following the stem cell transplant were bumpy. The biggest danger was infection.
Knox came down with appendicitis and needed an emergency appendectomy. He survived that, plus a tuberculosis scare and multiple episodes of septicemia, in which dangerous bacteria enter the bloodstream. It’s potentially deadly and especially dangerous to people with no immune system.
Then, the transplanted cells took root — the medical term is “engraphment” — and UVa’s doctors could detect the first signs of his new immune system.
It comes after a decade-long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and severe anemia that resulted from his treatment for that. He still has a long way to go, but Knox, 62, sounds optimistic.
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