ORONO, Maine — Maine coach Shawn Walsh was released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., and returned to his home in Veazie, Maine, on Friday, July 13. He will continue his outpatient treatment and return to NIH periodically to continue testing throughout the upcoming months.
Walsh remarked from his office, “Returning to Maine after my stem-cell transplant this past weekend reminded me of the feeling I had when we returned to Maine after our two national championships. It’s great to be back. I am looking forward to spending quality time with my children and family, and getting my strength back to 100 percent for the upcoming season.”
Walsh went on to say, “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the energy I have had. Fatigue is certainly a by-product of this process, and will continue to be for another month or so, while I finish up my immunosuppressant drugs. I’ve been able to get into the office, been able to get out to the golf course, and it takes a lot of energy to chase a two-year old [Walsh's son Sean] around the house all day. I have another 40 days of immunosuppressant drugs before the procedure is considered completed, but at least I can spend those days in Maine.”
As has been the case throughout much of Coach Walsh’s treatment, he was yet again ahead of schedule in his latest round of treatments at NIH. “They [NIH] had never released anybody before day 60 of this treatment,” said Walsh. “I said to my doctor [Dr. Richard Childs] last week, ‘Records are made to be broken.’ He turned to the head nurse and said, ‘Records are made to be broken, let’s let the coach go home.’” Walsh was at NIH for 57 days following his stem-cell transplant. Walsh was at NIH 17 days prior to the transplant for tests and chemotherapy, and was in inpatient and outpatient treatment for 74 days altogether.
Walsh is in the final leg of his treatment program, but will not know how successful the stem-cell transplant has been for quite some time.
“We don’t expect to see the tumor fighting results until a few more months down the line, but all the indications so far point in to a successful conclusion,” said Walsh.
His most recent round of treatments involved a week of chemotherapy which began May 10, to suppress his immune system in preparation for the transplant, and the actual stem-cell transplant, May 17. Walsh was formally released from NIH May 27, and underwent his first outpatient testing May 29. His outpatient treatment consisted of blood tests at NIH every Tuesday and Friday until his release this Friday to monitor how his body was accepting the stem cells.
This process usually involves 21 days in the hospital, but by day five (May 22) Coach Walsh was able to come home (his brother Kevin’s home in nearby Annandale, Va.) each afternoon and not return until the following morning. His wife Lynne and his children were able to visit him during much of the treatment process.
Dr. Richard Childs of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and Dr. David Schrump, Head of the Thoracic Oncology Section of the Surgery Branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), are overseeing Walsh’s treatment while at NIH. Childs is the primary investigator of the stem-cell study, which is a collaboration of the NHLBI and NCI.
Walsh successfully underwent surgery March 29 at NIH in preparation for the stem-cell procedure. The initial surgery, known as debulking, included a left pneumonectomy (removal of his left lung), and removal of cancerous tumors located under his breastplate. The debulking surgery Walsh underwent was essential in preparation for the stem-cell transplant because the number of cancer cells present at the time of the transplant is directly related to the success rate of the procedure. Walsh, originally diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in early July of last year, underwent these procedures to eradicate cancer cells that have spread to his left lung and his sternum.
Stem cells are immature cells that develop into blood cells. If the transplant is successful, new cells will grow, multiply and attack the cancer cells. The procedure involves transplanting stem cells from someone who is cancer-free and a very close genetic match into the cancer patient. Walsh’s brother Kevin was the stem-cell donor for the procedure.
Walsh had surgery to remove a cancerous left kidney at the Boston Medical Center July 7, 2000, and underwent immunotherapy cycles at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center in August and October. Between the two treatments, he returned to campus and directed the team’s practices and was on the ice with the team for its first practice session of the season.