April 26th, 2012
08:13 AM ET
Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week transplant surgeon Dr. Carlos Zayas describes his experience as a patient when he underwent a bone marrow transplant.
When I was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 2009, I was told I had a 10% chance (or less) of survival with a 90% chance of relapse. Needless to say, it was overwhelming.
After 24 rounds of chemo, 18 different drugs, a failed transplant of my own bone marrow and an unsuccessful international search for a perfect bone marrow match, I knew my prognosis didn’t look good - but I decided that my diagnosis didn’t mean I was going to die.
You see, between the advancements in medicine and the power of faith, I knew there was hope and that I had an opportunity to grow and do more things. So even though I was sick, I came in to work in the mornings and saw my patients. Then, I would get my chemo and come back to see more patients.
Each day, I lived to make a difference for whatever time I had left to live.
I actually intensified some of my activities during this time and often found peace in the evenings at home when my family prayed and gathered around the table for a meal.
To this day, I believe the love of your family and friends is a strong force to keep you going, especially when you combine that with a strong religious or faith-based belief. All those things helped me endure my diagnosis and the harsh treatments that followed.
When I made a plea to my doctors to use my brother Hector’s bone marrow (an 8-out-of-10 match) for a second transplant, I knew I was taking a huge risk – a match like that can kill you faster than the disease itself – but I wasn’t done fighting and I certainly hadn’t given up on a second chance at life.
A lot of little miracles have come from this very long and difficult experience, but I’m thankful and happy to be alive.
It is by the grace of God that I am able to stay active and support people in need. In the past, my Piedmont Hospital colleague Dr. John Whelchel and I traveled to El Salvador with Children’s Cross Connection to lead 33 transplants in that country. We hope to do this again soon now that I’m healthy again.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the life you lived was perfect.
What does matter is how much you love others, and the easiest way to show this love is to give back what you have received for free.
What is permanent in life is the footprint you leave behind in the lives of others.
That’s why I’ve made it my calling to help minorities learn about transplantation and the benefits of being a donor.
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