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Hunterdon News

Hunterdon Healthcare Physician’s Road to Recovery and Lessons Learned After Bone Marrow Transplant

Photo: Keith Goldstein, M.D., talks to students in the Intensive Care Unit at Hunterdon Medical Center.

February 1, 2017

For more than 30 years, Keith Goldstein, M.D., Pulmonologist and Critical Care Specialist at Hunterdon Medical Center, has provided outstanding lifesaving care to thousands of patients.  Last year, he was on the receiving end of that care.  With a family history of Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a disorder in which bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells, he knew he carried the gene for many years and was diligent about checking his blood counts.  For years, he felt fine and went about life as usual.  In 2016, he started to develop symptoms, severe night sweats and was fatigued. Even though his blood counts did not show he had Leukemic cells, he made the decision to have a bone marrow transplant as a precaution.

The List and Luck
According to Be the Match Registry, every three minutes, one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer.  Every 10 minutes, someone dies from a blood cancer.  One of the treatments for a blood cancer is a bone marrow transplant.  Dr. Goldstein’s name was added to the registry where thousands are looking for a possible donor.  It typically could take years for a match to be found.   The best marrow transplant outcomes happen when a patient’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and the HLA of a registry member or cord blood unit closely match.   “I was very lucky I was able to find a match right away.  For most, it can take more than a year, or they never find a match.  I knew that I needed to find one because time was of the essence,” stated Dr. Goldstein.

A Match is Made

Once the donor match was identified, Dr. Goldstein underwent the most aggressive chemotherapy available called Myeloablative chemotherapy.  “This form of chemotherapy basically kills your bone marrow.  I received the highest level dosage. I could not walk, I could not eat, I could not barely lift my head up and had no white blood cells,” explained Dr. Goldstein.   Once his physicians determined his bone marrow was destroyed, he received his donor’s marrow or what he calls a liter size bag of life.  The cells then migrate into the bone marrow space to form and then you wait two to eight weeks to see if your body starts to accept the marrow or it rejects the donation.  After two weeks, Dr. Goldstein felt his bones begin to throb and his white blood cell count increased.  “Every part of my body was hurting, but my body was responding to my donor’s marrow and that was a great sign of hope,” stated Dr. Goldstein.

Recovery and Lessons Learned

It is now more than four months since Dr. Goldstein’s transplant.  His DNA is testing to be 100% his donors, which means the bone marrow is producing normal cells.   Dr. Goldstein returned to work in January on a modified schedule.  He learned a lot from being a patient in the bed versus a doctor at bedside.  “I believe that shared decision making between the physician and the patient is essential.  You want to see a physician who will listen to your concerns as well as explain your disease and the options.   You want a physician who you can have open communication with and you are not afraid to tell him or her your concerns, but also know that your physician is listening to you as well,” explained Dr. Goldstein.

He is inspired more than ever before to give back to the community and provide the highest quality of critical care in the Intensive Care Unit.  “Under my leadership in guiding critical care physicians as a team, we are committed to uninterrupted 24/7 care to all patients in our twelve bed unit.  We are supported by the highest level of technology in the ICU and telemedicine so the critical care specialists can be available at a moment’s notice,” stated Dr. Goldstein.

A Feeling of Gratitude

Dr. Goldstein is thankful to be alive and owes much of that to the generous donor who, for his own selfless reasons, decided to be tested and be added to the bone marrow match list which saved my life.  “I have to thank my friends at  Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center(HRCC), Dr. Blankstein, Dr. Bednar and Samantha Geiger, for helping to coordinate my care at Mt. Sinai and providing my follow up care at HRCC.” Dr. Goldstein went on to say, “I received over 800 cards, notes, texts of encouragement and support throughout my illness from many colleagues and members in the community.  It touched my heart and kept me going.  I wish I could thank them all individually, in due time I hope too, but for now it is time to get back to work.”


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