Stem Cell Transplant Puts Patient Back in the Saddle

Stem Cell Transplant Puts Patient Back in the Saddle

Three years ago, 57-year-old Ali Alkhamiri had such horrific pain in his bones that he couldn't sleep. He went to the doctor in his native Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and was told he was anemic and should see a hematologist, a specialist in diseases of the blood. That's when he called a friend in Chicago who recommended he seek out the experts at the University of Chicago Medicine and get to the bottom of what was making him feel so ill.

The busy general manager of the Dubai Equestrian Club wasn't accustomed to being out of commission, so he quickly made arrangements to get to Chicago. Once there, tests revealed he had lesions in his ribs. The diagnosis was multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, and he needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. With a four-month-old newborn at home, seeking treatment was his only option. "I went back home, took a leave of absence from my job, and came back to Chicago to be treated," said Alkhamiri. "I had to fight this; it was cancer."

"The University of Chicago Medicine is one of the best in the world. I'm convinced of that."

Within a few months, it was clear to his physician Todd Zimmerman, MD, an expert in treating multiple myeloma, that Alkhamiri would be a good candidate for a stem cell transplantation, which took place in February of 2011. Throughout this ordeal, Alkhamiri was able to lean on his family for support. His brother stayed with him during the transplant and his wife and baby boy visited him at Christmas. Following his transplant, Alkhamiri stayed in Chicago for about eight months, receiving additional treatment, including a regimen of maintenance chemotherapy that's taken orally, to ensure his health was stable before returning home.

Today, Alkhamiri is back to work in Dubai and "living a normal life", which includes being a father to his now 2-year-old toddler. He jogs, takes long walks and loves to swim and read. No longer suffering deliberating pain, Alkhamiri, a horse lover, sometimes rides "just for fun" and is grateful to have a drastically improved quality of life.

"I was lucky because Dr. Zimmerman is one of the best. I trust him and he is like a friend to me," said Alkhamiri. "The University of Chicago Medicine is one of the best in the world. I'm convinced of that."

The University of Chicago Medicine is known for its wide-ranging stem cell transplantation treatment for adults, said Michael R. Bishop, MD, director of the hematopoietic cell transplant program. "On the clinical side, we have a large degree of expertise in difficult-to-treat disease, or those with advanced disease," said Bishop. "We're one of the few institutions with such a far-reaching program and our outcomes are quite good."

"We have the opportunity to provide transplants to all patients despite their ethnicity and regardless of where they live." Bishop said the Center for International Patients is a "treasure" that removes all the obstacles and provides the necessary support a patient from another county might need, such as temporary housing, travel arrangements, and because the hospital is in such a metropolitan area, even make introductions to other families an international family can relate to.

"We have the opportunity to provide transplants to all patients despite their ethnicity and regardless of where they live."  Bishop said the Center for International Patients is a "treasure" that removes all the obstacles and provides the necessary support a patient from another county might need, such as temporary housing, travel arrangements, and because the hospital is in such a metropolitan area, even make introductions to other families an international family can relate to.Interpreter Tony Jasser translates for Ali Alkhamiri during his check-up with Dr. Zimmerman.

Alkhamiri said the Center for International Patients was a huge help, arranging everything from accommodations and transportation to scheduling translators. "They, too, are like family to me," he said.

"Even during treatment, he was always positive and cheerful," said Manal Baker, program coordinator at the Center. "He carried hope and a smile and he had a happy ending."

"He's living a great life and has had a complete response," said Zimmerman. "He's a kind and generous man with a nice spirit." Alkhamiri will be back to see his physician in September for a follow-up visit.