- When Lisa Cole was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, her doctor in Dubai recommended that she come to MSK for care.
- Lisa met with Sergio Giralt, Chief of MSK’s Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Service, who advised a bone marrow transplant.
- When the transplant only put Lisa’s disease into partial remission, Dr. Giralt performed a different kind of transplant using donor cells.
- Lisa went back into remission, recovered in New York, and is now home in Dubai.
Lisa Cole was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011. Originally from Jamaica and living in Dubai, she was determined to receive the best care — no matter where it was.
That’s how she came to New York to meet Sergio Giralt, Chief of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“My doctor here [in Dubai] was familiar with Dr. Giralt’s work with multiple myeloma and thought I would get the most-advanced treatment at MSK,” says the dentist, now 44 years old.
Lisa’s international insurance allowed her to travel for care. And MSK’s robust International Center caters to people outside of the United States. Its services include travel and housing logistics, financial help, translation referrals, and more.
Dr. Giralt says it’s not uncommon for him to meet patients who come from all over the world.
“For many, they’re coming here because they want access to a transplant program that has the best outcomes,” he says. MSK’s bone marrow transplant outcomes are among the best in the world.
Putting a Plan in Place
Even though she was far from home, Lisa felt comfortable the first time she met Dr. Giralt.
“He was cheerful and positive while still being professional,” she recalls. “What made me feel comfortable was that he never spoke about prognosis but rather said, ‘We want to have you here for another 40 years.’”
Dr. Giralt recommended an autologous stem cell transplant for Lisa, which would use her own stem cells to regenerate healthy blood cells in her body.
“I was confident in the MSK team and had tremendous support from close family and a strong faith in God, so I was optimistic about the outcome,” she says.
A Setback and an Opportunity
Lisa’s June 2012 transplant put her into a partial remission that lasted until October 2013.
“Within a short period of time, her disease came back,” Dr. Giralt remembers. “We decided she needed a more aggressive approach: a transplant from a donor, also known as an allogenic transplant.”
But for the transplant to be successful, Lisa needed a donor of African and Indian descent.
“I was concerned that it would be difficult to find a match for my genetic background. But I went back to my daily life and tried not to dwell on it,” she says.
While the search was under way, Lisa was prescribed steroids to control her disease. The medicine made her gain weight and affected her strength and mood. Finally, after a year of searching with help from Be The Match, Lisa was matched with a suitable donor.
“Words cannot express my gratitude and admiration,” she says. “This person was selfless and prolonged the life of a total stranger.”
The second transplant was scheduled for August 2014. This time, Lisa felt a little more nervous beforehand because Dr. Giralt had explained that the procedure came with different risks. But she also knew what to expect.
“Having gone through the first transplant, it was no longer venturing into the unknown. I had the memory of what was to come,” she recalls. “Having a strong faith and thinking of my son, who was 4 years old at the time, got me through. I just reminded myself that I had to be around to see him grow up.”
Road to Recovery
After the second transplant, Lisa recovered in New York City. First, she stayed at Hope Lodge, which provides short-term housing for people from out of town who are undergoing medical treatment in the city. It was important for Lisa to be close to MSK so that she could easily get to her follow-up appointments with Dr. Giralt.
“I was still very weak and feeling ill, but I was comfortable,” she says.
Later, as her follow-ups became a bit more spread out, she stayed with family on Long Island. About a year after her second transplant, Lisa returned home to Dubai. Her cancer has been in remission ever since.
“We wanted to get Lisa home as soon as possible so she could get back to the people and activities that matter most to her,” says Dr. Giralt.
But coming to MSK hadn’t even been a question for Lisa. She encourages anyone considering medical care abroad to make a plan, find support, and most of all, never lose hope.
“If you have the opportunity to go where you can get the best treatment, have faith that everything will work out,” she says. “Having a stem cell transplant is by no means a walk in the park, but being at MSK, there were a lot of amazing people to hold my hand through the process.”