Running to a Cure: Temple's Bone Marrow Transplant Program Celebrates 25 Years

Glenn Miller, Temple Bone Marrow Transplant Patient
Glenn Miller, Temple Bone Marrow Transplant Patient

PHILADELPHIA (January 3, 2012) - A quarter-century of life-saving patient care and advanced blood cancer research is the legacy of Temple Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) as the program celebrates the 25th anniversary of its founding this year.

Its success is embodied in the thousands of patients who have come to Temple BMT after being diagnosed with leukemia or other hematological malignancies. It is also represented in physicians and scientists who have trained, studied, or had careers touched by the talents and skills of the program.

Section Chief and BMT Director Kenneth Mangan, MD, planted the seeds of the program's success on July 1, 1987, when he founded the program. Just one year later, the program completed its first bone marrow transplant.

In the 23 years since, Temple's BMT physicians have performed more than 1,300 blood/stem cell transplants, and currently average around 90 such procedures each year. Temple's BMT team of physicians and clinical staff is now located on the campus of Jeanes Hospital.

Patient Glenn Miller is an inspiring example of what the program means for patients who have received a diagnosis of deadly blood cancer from another hospital. Miller came to Temple, looking for a cure. Today, the 67-year-old Glenmoore, Pa., resident is back to doing what he loves most: participating in marathons as a long-distance runner.

Rejecting Fate with a Fight

Miller was originally diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia two years ago. He was given six to eight weeks to live by his initial physician. The grim prognosis was made worse when the voicemail left by the physician was played on speakerphone within earshot of Glenn's granddaughters and daughter-in-law, who burst into tears.

"You can never imagine the thoughts that run through your mind when you hear something like that," said Miller. "I could feel the blood drain from my face."

But Miller opted to fight. After expressing his desire for treatment to his physicians, he was referred to Temple, where he met hematologist Patricia Kropf, MD, Assistant Director of Bone Marrow Transplant. Kropf developed a treatment plan that began with an inpatient hospitalization for aggressive chemotherapy. Miller began treatment exactly one day after arriving in Philadelphia.

"It was the beginning of a very long battle," said Miller, who gave up running after starting treatment. "I remember watching the seasons change through my window, as I sat, isolated, immune-compromised, with no ability to fight infection, much less run."

Chemotherapy is an important tool used in the fight against blood cancer. By eradicating a patient's leukemia cells, it allows for a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, which may provide a cure for some patients.

But the same chemotherapy used to kill the leukemia cells also damages healthy cells and tissues, resulting in potential discomfort, organ damage, and susceptibility to infection.

After completing multiple cycles of chemotherapy, Miller learned that he had no matching stem cell donors amongst his family members. He would require a transplant from an unrelated donor.

The Temple Transplant team performed a thorough search and subsequently identified a partially-matched, unrelated donor. Miller's donor underwent a bone marrow harvest in the operating room, whereby physicians extract several liters of bone marrow from the donor's hips. Miller received his bone marrow transplant in March, 2010.

Although making it to a transplant is incredibly difficult in itself, most patients continue to face an uphill battle after transplant. One common complication after transplant is "graft-versus-host disease," whereby the cells from the donor attack the patient's tissues.

Luckily for Miller, the only major complications he suffered were a few infections requiring antibiotic or antiviral therapy. He said he suffered few side effects from the transplant and from the earlier chemotherapy, a development he credits to Kropf and the BMT staff.

Running on Determination

Looking back on his 18 months of treatment, Miller recalls the BMT physicians and nurses who supported him through his fight against cancer, along with his family and friends. People like Dr. Kropf "kept me alive," Miller said.

Upon returning home after his month-long hospitalization, Miller still required the assistance of visiting nurses, and found he could not yet return to work. His weakened immune system meant that simple, taken-for-granted comforts like human interaction posed a risk of infection and illness.

Despite such an environment, a love of running led Miller to don a respirator mask, head outside, and attempt short walks. Undeterred by his still-recovering body, Miller would walk to the point of exhaustion, when a tired body forced him to sit on the curb, gasping for air. Slowly, but surely, he progressed from short walks to short runs, then eventually to longer runs after about nine months.

In October, Miller finally rejoined his running partners in the Steamtown Marathon, near Scranton, Pa. There, he placed 3rd in his division, despite little training and the continuation of post-transplant medical treatment.

Looking back at the race, Miller recalls how his phone rang while he was still at the marathon. To his delight, it was Amelie and Maelle, his two grand-daughters. "They could not wait to tell me how proud they were of me," said Miller, who added that the race symbolized winning the race against his cancer.

In addition to his donor, family and friends, Miller always mentions the team of Temple BMT physicians for special thanks and praise.

"The names and faces of my Temple doctors and BMT staff are etched in my heart and memory," said Miller. "Their quality medical care, and their compassion, made me feel like I was the most important patient in the world."

For more information, call 215-214-3122.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

For more information, call 888-369-2427

About Temple University Health System

Temple University Health System (TUHS) is a $1.6 billion academic health system dedicated to providing access to quality patient care and supporting excellence in medical education and research.   The Health System consists of Temple University Hospital (TUH); TUH – Jeanes Campus; TUH-Episcopal Campus; TUH-Northeastern Campus; Fox Chase Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center;  Temple Transport Team, a ground and air-ambulance company; and Temple Physicians, Inc., a network of community-based specialty and primary-care physician practices. 

TUHS is affiliated with the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. The Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM), established in 1901, is one of the nation’s leading medical schools.  Each year, the School of Medicine educates approximately 840 medical students and 140 graduate students. Based on its level of funding from the National Institutes of Health, Temple University School of Medicine is the second-highest ranked medical school in Philadelphia and the third-highest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Temple Health refers to the health, education and research activities carried out by the affiliates of Temple University Health System (TUHS) and by the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.  TUHS neither provides nor controls the provision of health care. All health care is provided by its member organizations or independent health care providers affiliated with TUHS member organizations. Each TUHS member organization is owned and operated pursuant to its governing documents.