DENVER — Last summer, in the middle of the pandemic, Mike Sommers, a father and baseball coach, was diagnosed with blood cancer.
“Started about a year ago,” he recalled. “Routine blood work. They noticed my blood counts were low. One thing led to another and she told me it was MDS (Myelodysplastic syndromes).”
Myelodysplastic syndromes are an often unrecognized, under-diagnosed rare group of bone marrow failure disorders, where the body no longer makes enough healthy, normal blood cells in the bone marrow.
Eight months after that diagnosis, Sommers hopes to get back in the game coaching his three young children in baseball following a bone marrow transplant. He would be the 5,000th such transplant performed at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute (CBCI).
“I'm glad I could be a part of that milestone. It shows the program has been a success in the past,” Sommers said.
Dr. Jeffrey Matous said back in the 1990s, Sommers would have had to go out of state to have a procedure like this.
“The whole transplant landscape over the 30 years since the inception of our program has really changed dramatically for the better,” Dr. Matous said.
One of the biggest changes: The stem cells Sommers is receiving during his bone marrow transplant weren’t harvested from a donor through a surgical procedure.
“In Mike’s situation, he’ll be getting his stem cells from a volunteer who will be donating their peripheral blood stem cells rather than bone marrow stem cells,” Dr. Matous explained.
“I never realized you could donate your bone marrow until I needed some,” Sommers said before his procedure. “And it’s just an awesome thing.”
Sommers says thanks to the team at CBCI. He’s never had any second thoughts about his decision to have the transplant and he knows he will be back outdoors hiking and playing with his kids soon.
“I can't wait to get back to that… just to be involved," he said.
Sommers wants to thank his donor and encourage others to become donors.
According to BeTheMatch.org, which is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, the likelihood of finding a match for a patient in need ranges from 23-77%, depending upon the patient’s ethnic background. The program says improving the diversity of the potential donors in the registry will improve the odds of finding more matches.