Surgery Transfers Daughter's Marrow To Pastor

July 21, 1991|By Chris Poore | Chris Poore,Special to The Carroll County Sun

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Bit by bit, doctors gathered more than a quart of liquid with marrow from 12-year-old Lauren Benz's hip bone early Friday morning.

Just after nightfall, the red liquid dripped into the veins of her father, the Rev. Bert Benz.

If all goes well, it will work its way into the 47-year-old Hampstead pastor's bones to replace diseased marrow that chemotherapy and radiation treatments have destroyed.

Benz said Lauren was doing well.

"She's just really tired," he said six hours after her surgery here. "She's in a deep sleep right now."

For Lauren, the transplant meant two hours of surgery in which doctors removed, or harvested, marrow.

Benz wasn't operated on. He waited until the marrow was processed and dripped intravenously through a Hickman catheter inserted near his heart.

FOR THE RECORD - Videotaping was done by Linda, Benz' wife. Story as published reads Lauren, who is his daughter.

It will be two to three weeks before doctors at the University of Kentucky's Markey Cancer Center here will know whether Lauren's marrow is replacing her father's.

Until then, they will be watching the Faith Baptist Church minister closely for infection because radiation and chemotherapy have weakened his immune system. He will remain in isolation for 60 daysto protect him from infection.

If the marrow does not begin to replace Benz's, "that's a serious problem," said Dr. Jean Henslee-Downey, director of UK's bone marrow transplant program.

Doctors then would have to put Benz through more treatments and give him more marrow.

But the chance of the new marrow replacing Benz's is more than 95 percent, Henslee-Downey said.

If the marrow is not immediately reject ed, doctors rate his chance of a cure at 40 percent to 45 percent. Without the transplant, they gave him three years to live.

Benz came to Kentucky two weeks ago to begin treatment for chronic myelogenic leukemia, discovered last August after a routine physical. A 10-month search of more than 1 million possible donors determined that his daughter's marrow -- though an imperfect match -- was the closest to his own.

UK has one of the few centers in the country that specializes in imperfect transplants.

A nurse called Benz throughout the two-hour morning surgery to keep him abreast of his daughter's progress.

"She went to sleep easy," the nurse told Benz, who was waiting in his room. "She's doing just fine."

The harvesting of marrow was a simple procedure, said Henslee-Downey. The danger for Laurenwas what any patient under anesthesia would face. The most visible sign of Lauren's surgery is what Henslee-Downey calls "the bone marrow shuffle."

"She'll be a little sore" where needles were inserted through skin and into her hip bone, Henslee-Downey said. She also had a baby tooth pulled before the surgery to prevent it from falling outand sliding down her windpipe during surgery.

Before the surgery, Lauren said she would be glad when the "poking" and "prodding" from tests was over.

"I want to go get the tooth pulled, get the marrow out and get out of there," she said.

After the procedure, the youngster said she was sore in her hip and throat and dehydrated.

"I'm hoping (the transplant) will work," said Lauren, sending back a hello to her two best friends, Tara and Kattie.

Members of Bert Benz's family had packed into his room the day before the transplant to wish him well and tease him about the hair he will lose this week because of treatments.

Benz, who is keeping a sense of humor even aboutthe strong doses of radiation and chemotherapy, donned a multicolored clown wig to show them how he will combat the problem.

"It's an improvement," said his 43-year-old brother, Bob Benz of Gainesville, Fla.

During the 8 p.m. transplant, which Lauren videotaped, several family members gathered in a nearby room to celebrate with refreshments and balloons.

Back home, his congregation and other supporters signed up for 15-minute intervals of a 24-hour prayer vigil that started at midnight Friday. The vigil was coordinated by the Rev. Donald Brown of Taneytown, director of missions for the Central Baptist Association, which is made up of Carroll County churches.

People from across the country called in to sign up for the vigil, said the Rev. Rudy Tidwell, Benz's associate pastor. Each 15-minute interval had an average of seven people who stopped what they were doing to pray for Benz.

Benz's parish has raised more than $16,000 toward the $50,000 in medical expenses not covered by his insurance.

A well-known member of the community through his church and his activity as chairman of a local government advisory committee on mental health and substance abuse, Benz has received an outpouring of support from the 102 members of his congregation, other county residents and even strangers who have seen him on national news.

"I don't know that Bert isthat conscious of having to be an example," Tidwell said. "He's justthat way. Bert's faith has always been genuine."

Benz said Fridaythat he was tired but looking forward to recovering from the transplant.

A banner hanging from his window in the cancer center read: "Congratulations Bert Benz."

Staff writer Anne Haddad contributed to this story.

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