Bone marrow transplant pioneers reunite after 25 years

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Updated Sunday, Aug 21 at 10:32 AM

FORT WORTH — It all started with Ashley Marshall, a baby born with leukemia.

Her mother begged an innovative young oncologist, Dr. Paul Bowman, to do a bone marrow transplant.

None of the hospitals in North Texas had ever tried it with a child before.

"It took some convincing," Dr. Bowman said. "Transplants for kids with leukemia had begun in a few places in the 1970s, but there hadn't been many that had been accomplished successfully."

Dr. Bowman and his team did it. The transplant gave little Ashley a precious few more weeks with her family before her death. Grateful, they donated enough money to start a bone marrow transplant program.

"The survival rate for patients sustaining relapse in those days was not more than a year or two," Dr. Bowman said.

in 1986, Chris Bowman (no relation to the physician)  had just found out his acute lymphoblastic leukemia was back. He would become the second young ALL patient in the pioneering program.

"I remember Chris being very stoic," Dr. Bowman said.

"Not one time in the entire process did I think the condition would be fatal," Chris Bowman added. "It never even crossed my mind."

Twenty-five years after the transplant, the two men reunited at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, where Dr. Bowman is now medical director of the life after cancer program.

"You were very courageous," Dr. Bowman said to his former patient. "You were a pioneer to submit yourself to all that."

Much has changed in the intervening eyars. The fiery young doctor is now a grandfather.

Chris Bowman is now 42 and works in corporate intelligence at Alcon. He just got married.

"I tricked her into marrying me," he joked.

Chris is also blind, a complication of a lowered immune system following the transplant. "It's a war I went through and I lost a few battles, including my eyesight," he said.

But both men look at the more than 700 children who've been given second chances by transplants since that small beginning, and say they believe their sacrifices were worth it.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

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