It wasn’t too long ago that Walter Denton, the city administrator for O’Fallon, was on crutches. Sarcoma, a cancer that almost took his leg, ended up being replaced by a titanium femur and an artificial knee. Denton beat the cancer after nine months of chemotherapy, 60 days of inpatient treatment, an uncountable amount of outpatient treatment, two surgeries and 16 months of crutches later.
He thought that he would finally get back to a normal life. But a familiar feeling washed over him after a phone call from his doctor. The doctor said Denton’s chemotherapy had given him a different cancer.
“I finished the chemo and started feeling better. When (the doctor) says he cured me, he was right. I don’t have sarcoma now,” Denton said. “But the chemotherapy caused damage in my bone marrow so that I'm not making platelets anymore.”
A few months after his sarcoma chemotherapy was finished, Walter contracted Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a group of diseases that cause blood-forming cells to slow down and even stop producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. To counteract this, Denton receives a transfusion once or twice a week.
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His wife, Kathy Denton, felt blindsided by the sudden news that her husband had a new cancer after beating the original sarcoma. She called him the healthiest person she had ever met.
“We went to a normal appointment and we were told everything looks great,” Kathy said. “We get home and receive a call telling us that he had single-digit platelets.”
Single-digit platelets can lead to internal bleeding anywhere on the body, including the brain. The risk of an aneurysm is greatly increased. A healthy blood platelet count averages about 300,000 per microliter of blood.
After a recent appointment, Kathy celebrated a platelet count of just 25.
Currently, a bone marrow transplant is the only cure for MDS. While Walter is currently in the first stages of being matched, he was excited to promote awareness for the registry in hope that someone else could find a match.
Denise Mosley, a community engagement representative from Be The Match, is in charge of running all the donor programs in the greater St. Louis area. Be The Match is currently the largest bone marrow registry, boasting a 12.5 million list of available donors. They raise advocacy for both bone marrow transplants and donor diversity. Because a transplant matches with DNA and race, many ethnicities, including African-American and mixed races, are underrepresented in the registry.
Mosley encourages everyone in the community to sign up, and hopes to dispel the rumors about how bone marrow is harvested.
“It takes about 15 minutes to join. All you do is review medical guidelines and commitment information, fill out a form and swab your mouth,” Mosley said. “In reality, about 75 percent of the time it is extracted like blood. The other 25 percent is if you are matched with a baby, they perform a surgical extraction under a general anesthesia. But the commitment is worth the end result.”
Tom Davis, a past donor, said the procedure is not like how television portrays it. Davis, an information technology administrator for the city of O’Fallon, said that while uncomfortable, it only took a short time and was worth it. Davis and his patient, a 50-year-old woman from New Jersey, agreed to keep in contact and were given each other’s information about a year after the procedure.
“We exchanged information, a few letters and some pictures and in fact she’s on my Facebook page,” Davis said. “She told me she got to do a leukemia walk and was able to see her grandson who was recently born.”
Right now, there are a few 100 percent matches lined up for Walter. Kathy feels positive about the procedures and hopeful that one of their current matches will follow through with the commitment.
“I’d like to have him around for a while,” Kathy laughed. “I’d like to see him walk his girls down the aisle. We hope someone is willing to donate their stem cells so that he has a chance to do those things.”