Brian Walker is the director of research for the UAMS Myeloma Institute. March is Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, and Walker discusses what that special focus on myeloma means, his research and how the UAMS Myeloma Institute’s world-leading status for the research and treatment of it drew him to accept his position here more than a year ago.
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March 2, 2017 | Ambassador Ruth A. Davis traveled the world as a U.S. diplomat during her 40 years with the U.S. Foreign Service.
But when she learned she had a relapse of multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in the blood, she headed to Arkansas and the UAMS Myeloma Institute.
“I’ve often had people ask me, ‘Why don’t you go somewhere in the area, closer to home.’ I tell them, ‘Listen. This is a question of my life and I will go where the best treatment is available,’” she said recently on a visit to UAMS.
Davis, who lives in Washington D.C., has been receiving treatment from UAMS for a decade now. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2000 and was told she would live three years. Davis decided to come to UAMS after a friend recommended it to her.
“My experience with UAMS has been wonderful,” Davis said. “It has exceeded my expectations. The staff is accommodating. There is a community that has been developed to assist the patients of UAMS. They’re welcoming and competent. It gives me the confidence I need to proceed with fighting this disease.”
A trailblazer throughout her 40 years with the Foreign Service, Davis says she enjoyed every minute of it. She was the first African-American director of the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, and the first African-American woman to be director general of the Foreign Service. In 2016 she became the first African-American to receive the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contribution to American Diplomacy Award.
Davis has led a colorful life and proudly adds, with a smile, that she is an official Arkansas Traveler – a designation bestowed upon her by the governor. She’s usually accompanied by her sister Eugenia Davis-Clements, her caregiver and a former physician. The two women love meeting new people and are rarely seen without a smile or encouraging word.
While Davis says having multiple myeloma and going through treatments has slowed her down some, she refuses to let it stop her. In November, she traveled to Europe twice: to Brussels to chair the conference of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge and then to Vienna for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Development Organization.
Davis is under the care of Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D., director of developmental and translational medicine at the UAMS Myeloma Institute.
“I feel that I get the individual attention that I need. I’m not just a case study. I’m a patient with a real need and he is responsive to that. He’s one of the best in the business so I’m delighted to be a patient of Dr. van Rhee.”
Established in 1989, the Myeloma Institute was the first center in the world devoted exclusively to research and clinical care of multiple myeloma and related disorders. Patients have come to the Myeloma Institute from every state and more than 50 countries.
Melissa Thomas, RN III – The Myeloma Institute
Congratulations to Melissa Thomas, RN III for being selected as the DAISY Award recipient for the month of March!
Melissa works in The Myeloma Institute and was nominated by a co-worker who was also a patient. The nomination below reflects how Melissa impacted her life in a very special way.
“During an EPIC class in the Barton Building, my glucose level dropped. I had been having trouble with my vision and am awaiting cataract surgery. My co-worker, Melissa Thomas, who was also attending class, was sitting across the aisle from me and was watching me to see if I needed help with class activities. I was using a desktop magnifier to help me view the screen, but it was difficult to get through the class. At one point, I just couldn’t figure things out anymore. I am told that Melissa kept getting up out of her seat to help me place the mouse where it belonged on the screen, and to put my fingers on the correct keys on the keyboard. She later told me that she noticed my hands were clammy and my pupils were pinpoint. I became unable to respond to her or my classmates and instructors. She recognized that I might have low blood sugar, and sprang into action, working with other people in the class to get me eating jelly beans, drinking juice, etc. My glucose finally got to 42 and then to 67 but I was not responding. The rapid response team was called and I was taken to the Emergency Department. Thanks to Melissa’s clinical observations and prompt action, I did not go into a coma and possibly die, although I am sure it was a very close call.”
Great job, Melissa!
To learn more about the DAISY award or to nominate a deserving licensed nurse, please visit: http//nurses.uams.edu.
Feb. 9, 2017 | The UAMS Myeloma Institute, an international leader in myeloma research and clinical care since 1989, sees more myeloma patients than just about any other center in the world. The institute’s specialists treat myeloma day in and day out. That is a distinct advantage for patients. And, recent research indicating that patients fare better when treated at experienced medical facilities supports that advantage.
Findings from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, show that people diagnosed with multiple myeloma are more likely to survive longer when treated at a medical center that sees lots of multiple myeloma patients. Published this past fall in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, “Association Between Treatment Facility Volume and Mortality of Patients With Multiple Myeloma” concludes that patients treated for multiple myeloma at facilities with high patient volume had a lower risk of death than those treated at facilities with lower patient volume.
The study, based on 94,722 patients treated at 1,333 facilities and adjusted for sociodemographic and geographic factors and comorbidities, noted some clear factors that play a role:
- Most hematologists/oncologists in general practice see only two new and six established patients with multiple myeloma each year. It is difficult to be proficient with such a small caseload that comprises only 2% of one’s practice.
- An unprecedented number of new drugs are becoming available for the treatment of multiple myeloma, and there is a wealth of new information about myeloma biology at the molecular level that is revealing targets for precision medicine approaches. Multiple myeloma is becoming increasingly complex to classify according to risk and to treat. A hematologist/oncologist in general practice cannot possibly stay current on everything pertaining to multiple myeloma while staying current on other, more common cancers.
“It is nice to have a study that validates what we have known for a long time,” said Gareth Morgan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UAMS Myeloma Institute and professor of Internal Medicine in the College of Medicine. “Those of us who have devoted our careers to treating multiple myeloma understand that it takes a long-term, single-disease focus to truly appreciate the nuances of multiple myeloma and the factors that influence treatment choices for individual patients. We take this even further by integrating genetic studies with clinical findings to guide individual treatment plans.”
In addition to participating in international meetings where the latest clinical and research findings are shared among professional colleagues and staying abreast of peer-reviewed publications in the leading journals, Morgan and his team take advantage of the vast wealth of patient-related data that has been collected over decades at the Myeloma Institute. The data, which can be continually assessed as new, sophisticated analytical tools become available, reveal outcome patterns that shed light on which treatment methods are the most effective.
Another distinct advantage of centers that have had a high patient volume for many years is the presence of a well-oiled infrastructure. For example, other clinical services at UAMS, including nephrology, cardiology, hematopathology, radiology and orthopaedic surgery, have worked collaboratively with the multiple myeloma program and have built expertise in diagnosing and caring for the array of medical issues that can complicate treatment. Nursing staff in both the inpatient and outpatient settings also have specialized training that enables them to anticipate and quickly react to symptoms of the disease and treatment side effects and provide comprehensive care based on a keen understanding of the disease.
“Multiple myeloma is very complex,” said Faith Davies, M.D., the UAMS Myeloma Institute’s director of developmental therapeutics and professor of Internal Medicine in the College of Medicine. “A coordinated, multi-disciplinary team is essential for addressing the needs of patients and their loved ones. Having a large number of patients has helped drive an integrated, collaborative effort. In addition, community volunteers, as well as local hotels and restaurants, cater to our patients and are important components of our service that promote optimal outcomes. We are blessed to have such a wonderful community that goes out of its way to help our patients feel at home.”
As the Mayo study pointed out, substantial gaps in clinical outcome exist based on how many patients are treated. If patients are able to come to a center like the UAMS Myeloma Institute, their chances of doing well are improved.
When multiple myeloma strikes, patients deserve to have options for getting the best care possible. The UAMS Myeloma Institute, with its almost 30-year history of pioneering and outstanding care that has attracted patients from across the globe and its expertise honed over years of caring for multitudes of patients, is committed to being the go-to center of choice and giving every patient the best chance for a long, disease-free life.