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Paula's Extraordinary Story: Detecting & Fighting Leukemia

A routine screening helped McFarland Clinic providers find a Paula's leukemia. Clinical collaboration helped her fight it. Watch her story.

In November of 2016, Paula of Story City wasn't feeling well.

"I was tired," she said. "I just knew I wasn't feeling right." So the married mother of two from Story City decided to get a wellness screening at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames.

"I figured I was low on something or there was something they could just give me pill-wise and I'd be better."

Just hours after her screening, Sally Overland, PA-C, Paula's primary care provider in Story City, recognized there was a problem with her results.

"[Sally] had advised one of her nurses to call me and say, 'You need to come in right away,' and that I needed to come down to Oncology that same day," Paula said.

That's when Paula found out she had acute myeloid leukemia.

"I was nervous...scared," Paula said. "Not sure long term what was going to happen, and if I was going to be cured--or if it was the curable kind."

Paula was admitted to the hospital right away and met with McFarland Clinic Oncologist Dr. Venkatesh Rudrapatna, who educated her about her leukemia. She had was what was known as a FLT3 genetic mutation.

"The data would suggest that most patients with this subvariant of the FLT3 mutation don't tend to do as well," said Dr. Rudrapatna. "Most of them would tend to need an allogeneic stem cell transplant for improved responses to this leukemia because it doesn't tend to respond as well to the conventional chemotherapy."

Paula remembered, "I asked, 'Well how does a person get this?' And he spelled out the word, "Bad luck. B-A-D L-U-C-K."

Fortunately for Paula, there was a clinical trial drug that can help block the FLT3 mutation and make Paula's type of leukemia more responsive to chemotherapy.

Said Dr. Rudrapanta: "Through excellent collaboration--teamwork by McFarland Clinic, Mary Greeley, the clinical trials office--we were able to get a drug that is only open in a few institutions, and I think that speaks for our institution as well."

The trial drug has helped Paula better respond to chemotherapy, which has given her time she needs to prepare for a stem cell transplant.

Of her treatment at the William R. Bliss Cancer Center at McFarland Clinic, Paula said, "You can tell they care about the people that come in there. You can tell that they like what they do. I felt so comfortable with the way that I was treated and the way they communicated with me that I felt like I didn't want to go anywhere else."

Dr. Rudrapatna highlighted the benefits of good communication between patient and provider in Paula's case.

"She's a delight to take care of. She's very, very optimistic. She's very forthcoming with her symptoms and her complaints and her questions, which I appreciate."

When asked if she had advice for others going through what she has gone through, Paula said, "Just stay positive. Keeping a positive attitude and having positive people around you is what is going to get you through it. And family, because they're your support team."

Tagged As: Cancer

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