When 20-year-old Ramsey Fayed of Oakville started to feel his throat closing up at night, he knew that “something wasn’t right.” What he didn’t realize, however, was that his life was in danger.
“I couldn’t even talk when my throat closed,” recalls Ramsey. “After repeated visits to a doctor, I was told it was just anxiety, which was frustrating. Eventually, I was taken seriously and some tests were conducted.”
The test results were devastating. Ramsey’s symptoms were caused by acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive form of cancer characterized by the overproduction of immature white blood cells in the bone marrow. Immediate treatment was vital, as the cancer can spread quickly throughout the body, infiltrate organs, and result in serious infections and bleeding by compromising the immune system.
After a local consultation, Ramsey was referred to Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre, where he was admitted and began a protocol with two weeks of intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He continued with the protocol as an outpatient from April to August with addition chemo and radiation.
“My hair started falling out, which was hard,” he says. “I was put on steroids, which causes your appetite to flare up. I gained 20 pounds quickly and my face swelled to a circle. It was a difficult, emotional time.”
The cancer went into remission after the protocol, but Ramsey’s primary oncologist, Dr. Parveen Wasi, was concerned about a relapse and recommended a stem cell transplant.
“It was nerve-wracking because they couldn’t find a match for a stem cell transplant donor,” Ramsey explains. “They checked my brother and sister, but neither was a match.”
Fortunately Dr. Irwin Walker, Medical Director of Blood and Marrow Transplantation at Hamilton Health Sciences, was in the midst of conducting a clinical trial for which Ramsey was a good candidate.
Even though his sister’s stem cells were not a viable match for transplantation to Ramsey, the clinical trial attempted the transplant. The T cells, which play an active role in the body’s immune response, were removed from his sister’s stem cell sample first. Then the graft of stem cells, minus the T cells, were transplanted to Ramsey.
“They waited to see if my body accepted the stem cell graft, which it did, and then they transplanted the T cells after the fact.”
– Ramsey Fayed
If a donor’s transplanted cells are not an ideal match, they can begin to attack the recipient’s body and damage the liver, gastrointestinal tract and lungs. This is known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD).
“My biggest fear was experiencing serious complications like organ failure from GvHD if my body did not react well to the new T cells,” says Ramsey.
Luckily, the transplant was successful. Ramsey continued to recover steadily and he was discharged after six weeks.
“It was overwhelming when they said I was totally clear of cancer in 2015. I owe a debt of gratitude to the doctors and staff. I am also thankful to donors who help make it possible for patients like me to receive such amazing care.”