[Medical Breakthroughs]

Television News Service/Medical Breakthroughs
©Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc. 1999

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For some patients with the autoimmune disease lupus, steroids or chemotherapy can help. For others, nothing seems to work. Last year we brought you the story of the first woman to try an experimental treatment for the disease. Today we feature her remarkable story of recovery.

One year ago, Heather Markel was able to walk around her Ohio hometown, healthy for the first time since she was 11 years old. "I am better than I've been in probably 14 years," she says.

Those years were spent battling lupus. Chemotherapy and high dose steroids never completely helped. Heather says, "There were times when I thought, 'Is this ever going to get better?'"

Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago offered hope to Heather with an experimental treatment. Her own ineffective immune system was destroyed and replaced with a healthy one.

Richard Burt, M.D., an oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Ill., says, "What we've found is a new option, a new way of helping people who have failed everything else. It is a very aggressive therapy, and it does have significant risks associated with it, but for people in that situation it's an option."

Heather was the first patient to have it done. One look at her today, and its result is clear. She says, "I never thought I'd ever have a thin face ever again in my life." Since Heather, four more lupus patients had the treatment. Doctors say all are doing about as well as Heather. She still can't believe the disease is really gone. "We always were hoping for it and praying for it," says Heather. "I never thought it was actually going to get here."

While Heather may be finished spending time in the hospital for her illness, she's not over hospitals, yet. She's headed to medical school. "I'd like to work with patients with bone marrow and ones that are going through what I went through," she says. After being on the other side, she says she's one step ahead.

The treatment, called a stem cell transplant, has also been used on patients with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is only intended for people who have failed all other treatments. Currently, Northwestern is the only center doing the transplant, but others plan to start.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Richard Burt, M.D.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
250 E. Superior
Wesley Pavilion 1456
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 908-5400

Don't miss our original story with Heather.

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