Responding to desperate need

winship logical watsonMyeloma specialist Sagar Lonial with Winship myeloma nurse Melanie Watson.

Day 4: Winship Cancer Institute

The woman with the Caribbean cadence in her speech appeared again and again at Winship's front desk, each time asking for Melanie Watson, the nurse in the multiple myeloma clinic.

She wanted Winship to get a medical visa for her brother, Jacques Bonnell, who lived in Haiti. When told that Emory would see him once he arrived but could do no more without records, she always began weeping.

Then, somehow, months later, she appeared with her brother. True to Watson's word, Winship saw him immediately. Blood tests confirmed the diagnosis. Multiple myeloma cells were crowding out healthy blood-forming cells in his bone marrow. The thin, drawn man in his mid-30s was exhausted from frequent infections, nausea, and bone pain.

A cancer of the plasma cells, multiple myeloma can't be cured. But the right medical care, provided at the right time, can relieve symptoms and slow its progress. Sagar Lonial and his colleagues at Winship see more than 1,600 multiple myeloma patients every year, following many for years. They knew this man, as sick as he was, had a chance for remission. There was no discussion of how the family would pay for the care.


sagar lonial melanie watson

Because the disease was so advanced, Lonial decided the best option was a stem cell transplant.

Because the disease was so advanced, Lonial decided the best option was a stem cell transplant. Bonnell's own stem cells would be removed from his blood and returned after high doses of chemotherapy had killed his cancer cells.

The transplant worked to decrease the myeloma cells, but the man faced other problems, likely caused by treatment received before coming to the states: congestive heart failure, spinal fracture, and kidney failure necessitating dialysis. Time and time again, he returned to Emory's ICU, sometimes for weeks. Although a pharmaceutical company provides his medicines, Winship so far has absorbed more than $1 million in other costs for care.

Despite what they've been through, says Watson, Bonnell and his sister's determination and courage have never failed. They continue to radiate joy and gratitude for the care he has received from Winship.

The distraught woman knew it would take a miracle to help her brother, whose cancer had advanced beyond any care available in Haiti.