Prineville's Sally Wilhelm may be among the few lucky leukemia sufferers to benefit from the new `miracle' leukemia pill called STI571. To make it possible, once again the Wilhelm family is turning to the community for help.
>The Wilhelm family is hopeful that a new experimental drug will help
First diagnosed in 1994, Wilhelm left for Portland last February to undergo her second Donor Lymphocyte Infusion (DLI), or bone marrow transplant, in her continuing battle against the disease.
According to husband Delbert Wilhelm, the infusion wasn't as successful as doctors had hoped.
"She was at the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) Medical Center for about a month after the DLI, and they told her she could come home to wait until it kicked in," he explained.
But when Wilhelm returned for a check-up two weeks later, it became evident that the treatment was not working.
"They scheduled her for another infusion. But after the test results were all in they called and told her to drop everything, and get back to the hospital. They wanted to put her on STI571 right away."
The experimental pill was first tested at the University of Texas cancer center in 1999. All 31 patients with leukemia who followed the simple drug regimen (just four capsules a day) reportedly went into complete remission. A year later following additional trials on 550 patients by the medical community, a whopping 90 percent of patients showed at least some signs of benefit from the `miracle pill' treatment.
According the OHSU, STI571 was created by understanding the fundamental mechanisms that trigger some types of leukemia and was cited by Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, as an early example of the kind of rational drug design that will stem from human genome studies. The STI571 clinical trials demonstrated "pretty dramatic results and ones which we hope will be repeated in other disorders as we get this kind of molecular understanding of what's gone awry in disease," said Collins.
For Sally Wilhelm and her family, STI571 is simply one last hope for a cure. After months of struggling with treatments and traveling on a roller coaster ride of hope verses dread, everyone is feeling the strain. "She's stable, but that's about it," Delbert said.
To top it off, the cost of medical treatments not covered by insurance, living expenses for Sally while living in Portland, and the continuous traveling back and forth is taking a toll on the family budget.
Community fundraisers held in December of last year in behalf of the Wilhelm family were gratefully received, but those funds have since been exhausted.
Anyone interested in making a donation to help out can do so through the Community First Bank Prineville Branch, to the The Sally Wilhelm Non-Profit Fund.