Being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a serious blood cancer, is difficult enough to accept. But being told that you also have a rare hematologic condition called amyloidosis — a disorder that could prevent you from receiving the bone marrow transplant necessary to combat your myeloma — could put anyone’s strength to the test.
Such was the case for 67-year-old Kendall Schwindt of Sun City, Florida, a retiree who spent 26 years with Walmart and who has remained active playing golf and riding his motorcycle. After experiencing a sudden illness in March 2013 while visiting his son, Schwindt knew something wasn’t right. After visiting his family doctor, he was told he had a very high creatinine level in his blood and was sent to a local nephrologist for a kidney biopsy.
His diagnosis — multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in bone marrow. Plasma cells normally make proteins called antibodies to help the body fight infections. But that wasn’t only devastating news Schwindt would receive. He also was diagnosed with light chain amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when substances called amyloid proteins build up in one’s organs. Amyloid is an abnormal protein usually produced by cells in the bone marrow that can be deposited in any tissue or organ. Amyloidosis can affect different organs in different people, frequently affecting the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract.
Schwindt’s treatment started with a focus on the multiple myeloma, where a chemotherapy regimen was prescribed. The hope was that getting the myeloma under control would also have a positive effect on reducing any further spread of the amyloid to vital organs.
Schwindt was eventually told that he was likely going to need a bone marrow transplant. He went to a local cancer center in the Tampa area and was told by his hematologist there that because his heart had been affected by the amyloidosis, that he wasn’t a candidate for a bone marrow transplant.
Down and discouraged, Schwindt decided to seek another opinion and found his way to Mayo Clinic in Florida, where he met with hematologist Taimur Sher, M.D., a specialist in the treatment of amyloidosis.
“Dr. Sher ordered a series of tests on my heart and determined that with the right treatment plan, we could proceed with the bone marrow transplant needed to treat my multiple myeloma,” says Schwindt. “So we started the process of several days of injections to raise my white blood cell count so they could be harvested for the transplant.”
On Oct. 17, 2013, Schwindt had his bone marrow transplant at Mayo Clinic in Florida. So far, it has paid off — he is now 100 percent in remission for his multiple myeloma. And while he still has amyloid that has settled in his heart and kidneys, his doctors are confident that controlling his plasma cells will have a positive impact on containing his amyloidosis. For now, quarterly checkups with Dr. Sher are part of his regular follow-up visits.
“I owe my life to Dr. Sher and the staff at Mayo Clinic,” says Schwindt. “They are all very professional and have a caring attitude, which was important to me as I was very down after originally hearing my diagnosis. Dr. Sher’s confidence in my treatment plan had a huge positive affect on my mental state at the time.”
What’s next for Schwindt now that his health issues appear to be under control?
“I plan on enjoying my retirement, my family and most of all making the most of the time I’ve been given to just live my life to the fullest,” he says.