Columbus man to be one of first to receive transplant via new OhioHealth program

Marc Howard was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He will receive a transplant using his own cells later this year.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It all started with back pain that just seemed to get worse.

“My back, the structure of my body, started to deteriorate and I could see it,” he said. “I’m tall, so when I started leaning forward and the pain and things like that, I was like, yo, something’s up.”

His longtime love Sonia Grant also noticed this. And she was right there to encourage him to get it checked out.

When he did, doctors found holes in his spine where his bone had deteriorated. He had vertebroplasty to fill those holes with bone cement. But that was not the end of his journey. In fact, it really was just the beginning.

“He was fine for about a month after the surgery, then I saw him bending over again and one day he couldn’t get up,” Grant said. “I said, uh uh, we’re going back up (to the hospital). There’s something wrong.”

And something was. Howard was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in the plasma cells.

“I don’t want to be the woe, I am,” Howard said. “I want to be someone’s success story so the world can see how this man went through a situation and he made it through.”

And he’s making it this far, with the help of Grant. He does weekly chemotherapy and takes medication every day. Meanwhile, Grant makes sure he’s eating his fruit and veg and drinking plenty of water too.

“If you’re not up to the challenge, I’ll help you get there, I will,” Grant said. “Because failure just doesn’t matter when it comes to fighting something like cancer. You have to fight, you just have to fight.”

That fight will culminate later this fall with a major surgery as part of OhioHealth’s new blood and bone marrow transplant program. Howard will be one of the first patients to receive an autologous stem cell transplant, meaning his own cells will be used in the procedure.

dr Yvonne Efebera, the program’s medical director, explains that this process differs from a procedure using donor cells.

“BMT, blood and bone marrow transplantation, is a procedure required by certain diseases, in which non-functioning, defective bone marrow or cancer cells are eliminated by high-dose chemotherapy with or without radiation, and then replaced with new, healthy cells,” said dr Efebera.

She has treated Howard throughout this process and points out that it is one of the benefits of the new program. Previously, patients who needed a transplant had to be referred to other healthcare systems. Now they can work with the same clinical team from start to finish.

“Marc always wanted to be first,” she joked. “He strives to have his stem cells collected first and approved first.”

Both Howard and Grant are up to the challenge.

“It’s a fight,” Grant said. “We’re halfway through the fight and we’re going to get all the way to the end of the fight. Bruised, not broken. But we are fighting. But we’ll get through this.”

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