Washington — The longtime head of the Plastics Industry Association, Bill Carteaux, says his recovery from a mid-November bone marrow transplant is showing positive signs.
Carteaux, who has been battling acute myeloid leukemia since April 2016, underwent the transplant Nov. 17 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He remains in an intensive phase of his treatment, with daily visits to the hospital for the first 30 days.
Carteaux spoke to Plastics News Dec. 11 about his progress. His treatment is part of a trial with the National Institutes of Health using umbilical cord blood from babies, rather than adult donors, as a replacement for his bone marrow.
The first 60 days involve intensive monitoring of how his body is accepting the transplanted bone marrow, but Carteaux said the results thus far are positive.
"The way I feel and based on what my blood counts have done, [there's] no reason to think that it's not doing what it's supposed to be doing at this point in time," he said.
More treatment milestones are coming up, including tests to determine how much of the umbilical cord blood is replacing his own bone marrow.
Carteaux said his AML, a form of blood cancer, was in remission when he began the transplant, after he underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
His cancer had returned in July, ending an earlier period of remission that began in October 2016. The return of AML required more intensive treatment than the first round.
"Unfortunately, and this is the case with AML, when it comes back it, it comes back with a vengeance," he said.
If the transplant works — pending more tests and more time — he said he'd be completely cured.
"This should be a complete cure," Carteaux said. "Since I was in remission that puts me in that much better of a place, because we already had it back under control again before we went through the transplant.
"What they're basically doing is replacing my defective bone marrow and the ability for me to fight leukemia with brand new bone marrow from somebody else that now recognizes the leukemia cells and will continue to kill them for the rest of my life," he said.
Carteaux said he continues to work a "near full time" schedule. The executive leadership team at the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association will come to a day-long strategy meeting in Baltimore the first week of January, for example.
And he continues to be actively involved in daily management, joking that he tells people he's "on an extended business trip."
Carteaux, who got engaged recently, has led the association for 13 years and said he plans to continue.
"Different people have asked me, has this changed your priorities in life," he said. "I love what I do, I love this industry, I love our members. They have been awesome to me through this process. I have no reason to think I'm not going to continue."
If the transplant as part of the NIH trial does not work, Carteaux said he has an option of trying a transplant with bone marrow from one of his two adult daughters, who has already been tested and determined to be a match.
"The good news, having gone into the trial, if it's not working, then I can always do a transplant with my daughter. That's still an option," he said.
Since his diagnosis, Carteaux has gotten very involved with the Washington chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He chaired the group's fundraising Light the Night Walks in October, and has joined the board of the local chapter, one of the country's largest.
"I want to speak out, and what I've also learned is how many other people haven't spoken up, and don't want to talk about what's going on, and my biggest thing, and I still believe this now, is attitude makes all the difference in the world," Carteaux said.
He said he does not "want anybody to go through what blood cancer patients have to go through, the number of blood transfusions and platelet transfusions, that 2 years ago I had no idea it even existed. … I want to help people get through things like this."
The clinical trial that Carteaux is a part of uses umbilical cord blood from babies, in this case donated by families of two different babies, with the cells in that blood eventually replacing Carteaux's marrow, if all goes to plan.
He said the transplant will result in physical changes.
"At that point all of my blood should be gone, and it should be made up of the [blood from the umbilical] cords and then as time goes on one of the cords will actually win out and my blood type will change, my eye color could change," he said. "A whole lot of different things could change. I'll have different DNA than what I had."
Because his blood would be replaced by blood from umbilical cords, he'll lose the lifetime of immunities and childhood vaccinations, he said.
"Starting at six months I will start just like a newborn baby, and have to get all my shots all over again," he said.
Twice during the interview, he described parts of the experience as surreal, such as learning that his donor blood came from babies born in 2013 and 2014, and were donated by parents to help with research.
"Somebody out there is helping save my life and I'll never know who it was," he said. "Some kid, one that's three and one that's four, is going to end up being my donor going forward once it fully grafts."