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Mike Wolak
04.29.00

1944 / Class of '99 / Plasma-cell leukemia, kidney failure, transplant / Died 4-29-00

I'm Janice Wolak, Mike's wife. Mike grew up in Brockton and Easton MA, and after graduating from high school and a brief stint at a local college, joined the Navy about 1963. He was part of a helicopter rescue squad on the Oriskiny and/or Coral Sea during the Vietnam war and has mentioned that the guys (including him) used to sit on or sprawl out on barrels of napalm (and no telling what else) that was used in the war. Additionally, he's been around chemicals/solvents most of his life and has been an aircraft mechanic or heavy equipment mechanic for over 30 years. He spent numerous years crawling around inside jet fuel tanks (and reeked of it all the time).

Around mid 1997, and maybe a bit earlier, he started becoming ill quite often with flu-like symptoms that kept him out of work up to a week at a time basically every 3 months. In mid September 1998, he came down with pneumonia. All of this seemed really out of the ordinary for Mike. He healed up from the pneumonia, but around Xmas 1998, he started gradually eating less and less, and not feeling well. By mid January 1999, he couldn't eat at all. Doctors call it Calcium Anorexia caused by a build up of excess calcium in the blood stream which clogs the kidneys.

Mike was 54 when diagnosed with MM. We took him to the Emergency Room at a local Tulsa hospital for fluids on 1/24/99 and found out he had renal failure, serum calcium in excess of 15 or so, creatinine in the high 7 range, with plasma cells circulating in the blood. He had been barely able to speak coherently for several days prior to getting him to the hospital. His own doctor, and the admitting personnel were very concerned about that. After urine and blood tests, the Emergency Room personnel believed his situation to be caused by only two things: diabetes or MM. After a couple of hours of other tests, turned out they were 99% certain it was MM. Mike was in hospital for almost 4 weeks the first time. They got renal failure and MM under control temporarily, but he contacted sepsis which kept him in the hospital for a really miserable longer stay. He was released on 2/18/99, but I took him back on 2/23/99 because various drugs or lack thereof caused him to hallucinate and trip out really bad. The doctors got him under control and he was released 3/3/99 for outpatient treatment.

Mike subsequently had Leukine and Procrit shots initially to help build his blood up. He had a total of three rounds of VAD chemo before going for a autologous transplant in June 1999. During the period between 3/3/99 and the transplant, he recovered from 148 lbs to 178 lbs and regained muscle strength. At the time of the transplant, his BMB plasma cell percentage was 3%. We did the BMT on outpatient basis in Tulsa. Mike held up ok for most the duration, but the last couple of days, he started collapsing. We managed to keep him out of harm's way relative to infections, but he had serious trouble eating due to mouth sores and digestive tract sores. Prior to the BMT, he did have three double dose treatments of TBI after Cytoxan and Meph chemo the week prior. He got really bad skin reaction to these treatments. His arms, and different parts of his body were either leather or had whelps on and off for two months. We used gallons of lotion to soothe all the itching. He finally started recuperating in mid September, however, he came down with shingles on 10/14/99. He had had shingles 10 years earlier. His primary care doctor treated the current shingles with antiviral meds plus a double dose of steroids. He initially had pain with shingles 10 years ago, but none at the outset this time. Because shingles is so unpredictable about pain, and Mike's past history, the doctor gave him the double dose of steroids.

Anyway, the whole shingles incident really hurt Mike. He had muscle-wasting, a drop of 12 lbs in two weeks, despite eating ok, and appearance of the moonface for a month and a half. When the moonface started returning to normal in mid January, his face started a rash and became dry (still ongoing). By mid March, he'd noticed a continuing weakening of his system. He got Sinus tachycardia (lucky only that) and major dehydration. I got him to his primary doctor for blood work and within two days, he was admitted to hospital on 3/21/00 for dehydration and raised levels of Serum Calcium in his blood. It only got up to around 13.9, but that's all that was needed to clog his kidneys. He was released on 3/25/00 because he had appt. with Oncologist on 3/28/00. His kidney function improved somewhat while out of hospital, despite he wasn't able to drink enough fluids, but calcium levels began to climb again despite being given 90 mgs Aredia in hospital. On 4/4/00 he was readmitted to hospital with rapidly increasing Serum Calcium and kidneys clogging. Maintained on fluids, three RBC infusions and 3 Platelet infusions until all MM marker testing completed. Turns out his bone marrow was almost all Plasma Cells. He'll be on his 3rd day of chemo after noon today. He's feeling better and starting to eat better, but wired some from the steroids, again. As soon as he gets out of the hospital, we're going to get an appointment with the Univ. of Arkansas Medical Research Center for Myeloma in Little Rock for an evaluation of his condition and how to further treat it to contain it, if possible.

Based upon our experience and what I've read from patients' stories here, autos or allogeneic transplants don't necessarily do much better than other forms of treatment. One thing that's important for all involved is that the person who has MM shouldn't feel guilty about being sick. They need to direct their attention to helping their body heal itself. Mike now seems to understand and accept he is ill and is beginning to understand he can help himself and me more by getting off the guilt trip so he can help his body heal better.

May, 2000: Mike didn't survive the recent trauma and passed away on 4/29/2000.  He did his best, but he had an aggressive form of MM (the leukemia part) which ended poorly. 


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