Medical solutions have not always been easily accessible in the Rio Grande Valley. Most major cancer clinics exist outside of the region, so when a local resident gets diagnosed with something as severe as that, their only option is to find the nearest hospital that can treat their illness.
For years, anyone in need of blood cancer and/or bone transplant medical services had to make the trek up north to find what they needed. That was until the Texas Transplant Institute Clinic, a department of Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, recently opened a clinic in McAllen to better serve local patients that are in dire need of these services.
Reynaldo “Rey” Tamez, 28, is not only one of those patients who took advantage of this groundbreaking treatment in the region, but he was the first patient to be seen at the new outreach clinic in McAllen. He was also recognized at the open house for the clinic on September 3 and was accompanied by his parents.
“They treated me perfect. It was the best hospital I’ve ever been to. I was there for two months and it was a smooth process. I’m glad I was able to get the treatment I needed locally.”
Tamez was diagnosed with aplastic anemia which can occur at any age when your body stops producing enough blood cells. It leaves patients feeling fatigued and prone to infections and uncontrollable bleeding.
According to his physician and the medical director of the program, Carlos R. Bachier, M.D., certain types of aplastic anemia can be treated with medications and blood transfusions, but in a patient as young as Rey, a bone marrow transplant was the right course of action to follow through with.
“Medications can have negative side effects, and the longer the patient waits for a transplant, the more chance there is for complications to arise. A bone marrow transplant gives the best chance for a cure, so Rey received best we could give him.”
Tamez is a unique catalyst and representation of many local residents who do not have a solid understanding of the process and maintain a distressed outlook on stem cell transplantation. This trepidation is only elevated with the hurdles of having to find a donor then traveling to San Antonio to obtain the necessary treatment, making it strenuous for the patient who may not consider a transplant merely because they lack access to it.
“Patients have many fears about having to travel out of the Valley for treatment, and who they’re going to see when they get to San Antonio and where they’re going to stay. It’s hard for them, but our clinic in McAllen can help patients overcome these issues. After talking with a patient, we can make them feel more comfortable about the process as well as letting them know that if a stem cell transplant is needed, we can make it possible.”
Sonia Castillo, the eldest out of Rey’s three siblings, was his stem cell donor because she was a perfect match. This tends to occur in one out of five siblings. Rey was fortunate to have had the opportunity to take advantage of this, so in reality she played a huge role in saving his life.
According to Bachier, there is enthusiasm for the clinic because of what he and his team are bringing to the table. It is also the only place that offers bone marrow transplants in the Valley.
“The indications for transplants are expanding. We’re using stem cells to manipulate the immune system and we have ways to alter the cells that we take out, so we can make them more effective while we provide better ways to treat the patient. Improvements have been made to limit the side effects of the procedure as well as reinforcing certain methods within the process itself. This is something that will bring more and more patients to come.”