More MS news articles for March 1999

Covington man receives stem-cell transplant

by Kim Barker <>
Seattle Times staff reporter

A multiple-sclerosis patient who publicly fought to make his insurance company pay for a potentially life-saving procedure received his stem-cell transplant yesterday.

James Ellison, 37, of Covington had battled his insurer, Premera Blue Cross, which refused to pay for the stem-cell transplant because the procedure is considered "experimental."

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center agreed to absorb $25,000 of the $100,000 cost of the transplant.

An anonymous donor donated $75,000 more after Ellison held a news conference with state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn. Senn called Ellison's situation the most dramatic example of injustice in her career.

Ellison received his transplant about 12:20 p.m. yesterday. The slim pink bag of stem cells were fed through a catheter into Ellison for about 10 minutes. His wife sat with him through the transplant.

"It's a pretty simple procedure, considering how much he went through to get here," said Susan Edmonds, a spokeswoman for the cancer center. Ellison initially was denied coverage for the procedure late last year. He and his doctors appealed, arguing that the potential benefits of the procedure outweighed the risks.

Last month, doctors said Ellison only had a month or so before his aggressive form of multiple sclerosis would make him ineligible for the transplant. The anonymous donor then came forward.

Multiple sclerosis occurs when a person's immune-system cells attack the coverings of nerve cells. In stem-cell therapy, doctors inject basic blood cells from the bone marrow into a patient to try to create a new immune system and stop the progression of the disease.

Stem-cell transplants are often used to fight cancer. Only recently have doctors started using the transplants to tackle auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

About 50 stem-cell transplants have been performed worldwide on people with multiple sclerosis. At least one patient has died, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which considers the procedure potentially risky and says it needs more study.

Ellison is the third patient to receive a stem-cell transplant at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The other two patients are doing well, Edmonds said.

Before the transplant yesterday, Ellison had to go through two days of total body radiation and chemotherapy. He was listed in satisfactory condition last night.

Ellison will stay in the hospital for about a month. He'll then be carefully watched for another two or three months.

"The hope is, it will stop the progression of the multiple sclerosis," Edmonds said.