Many of you know how deeply Zach and I are fans of Radiohead. There are so many memories that there is not enough room for me to include them all here. Some quick flashbacks are sitting in that ’85 red Honda Prelude and listening to the entire OK Computer album in silence outside of Sean’s house. Another is enduring the 100+ degree heat in downtown Chicago the day that Zach and Josh moved as we were serenaded by Thom Yorke and company to True Love Waits. One of my favorite songs is Fake Plastic Trees and the lyric about how gravity always wins. It’s seriously in my head a lot. Today, gravity did win in the most beautiful and simple way possible.
Two years ago, if you had asked me what a bone marrow transplant was, I probably would have said something along the lines of — maybe it’s when someone else’s bone marrow is injected into another person’s bone? There’s a cute kid’s video about the subject and a girl re-tells how she thought a bone marrow transplant was when you get all new bones.
So, ladies and gentleman — here’s the secret: the actual bone marrow transplant is a multi-hour gravity drip from an IV pole through a central line catheter which is administered by nurses. It’s old school. It’s simple. There is a fairly small bag with 2 ounces of what looks like blood, but it isn’t just that. In that bag are very delicate donor stem cells of the exact same HLA tissue type. So delicate that it can’t go through a pump. Since Luka and his donor are different blood types, the lab took the red blood cells out. Just like that.
Luka did amazingly during his “Re-Birth.” And interestingly enough, it did in some ways remind me of the labor and delivery process. Right before it started, he was in his crib and waking up to all that was going on as the nurses got things set up. He held my finger tightly just as he did when he was first born. He slept through most of it on me, and would look up periodically like a regal lion examining his jungle. Then, he would rest his head back on me in satisfaction. He was serene and clairvoyant. It’s as if he waited his entire life for this, and now we are moving into the positive.
Three nurses, Whitney, Molly, and Kaitlin, checked, doubled checked, and triple checked everything. They were meticulous. After pre-meds and baseline vitals, the “product” (or stem cells that just looked like a bag of blood) was hung at the top of the IV pole, connected to Luka’s red lumen of his double central line, and the drip drop began thanks to gravity. And we sat. For hours. Since the rate of drip matters, the nurses constantly counted and re-counted every 15 seconds to make sure there were 2 drips. Sometimes there were 4 drips. Sometimes 2 drips. Sometimes no drips. We moved around to find the sweet spot. Drip. Drip. Drop. I ate scrambled eggs with cheese on top, bacon, and home fries and exclaimed, “Compliments to the Chef!” Zach told me the story of Isaac saying that at a diner after a Dave Matthews Band. Seriously, that was the bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, gravity does always win.
As the days move in the positive direction, we hope that the new stem cells will grow and he will start to “engraft” which basically means that the donor’s cells are taking to his body. He’ll also be monitored closely for reactions. He’ll continue to be in isolation since his body’s current immune system is basically non-existent and needs to develop. He’ll continue to be on a substantial amount of supportive care medications — steroids, anti-rejection, blood pressure, antibiotics, antifungals, pan relief, and so on. But, he is doing very well through it all and even had some energy to sit on his bike, pretend to talk to Maia on the phone, eat, and smile a bit. We’ll be in the hospital for 4-6 more weeks. But that’s OK. As Zach says, “The bone marrow transplant isn’t really a moment, it’s a process.” Drip. Drop.
Thank you all for the love. #LukaTheLion sends you his biggest, strongest, bravest ROAR!