The drive from Peachtree City, Georgia, to Rochester, Minnesota, is a long and weary ride for any traveler, but for Tom A., the hardship was nearly unbearable. That’s because Tom, 70, suffers from a blood cancer known as amyloidosis that he’s been battling for 15 years. He receives treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, over 1,000 miles from his Peachtree City home.
Amyloidosis is caused by the buildup of an abnormal protein called amyloid. The protein is produced in the body’s bone marrow and can be deposited in any tissue or organ. “The symptoms are similar to leukemia,” Tom said. In his case the excessive protein attaches to his lungs and heart. Treatment at Mayo has managed to stop the progression.
A Vietnam veteran, he said there is a possibility that exposure to Agent Orange is the culprit in his disease.
Tom is enrolled in a clinical trial at Mayo that started in January 2015. He’s now in the trial’s third phase and travels every four weeks for an infusion of antibodies that eventually removes the proteins. “I feel somewhat better—more alert,” he said. “The doctor says my numbers are much better. I feel better mentally. I always enjoyed sports—racquet ball, jogging, working out. It’s been awful when I can’t do it anymore. I have hope that’s going to change.”
Fortunately, Tom and his wife, Elizabeth (who is also his caregiver) no longer have to endure the trip by car. Angel Airlines for Veterans has been able to schedule flights for Tom at no cost. This has been an enormous relief since “we only have Social Security.”
Tom and Elizabeth have a special appreciation for nonprofit organizations. They started two nonprofits in Africa “to help people in rural areas with sustainability and livelihood,” Tom said. One is in Zimbabwe and one in Malawi. We left in 205. Now these are independent and still operating. We did a little bit of good but had to leave because of my health problems.”
Tom said it took three years for him to get a diagnosis. “It’s not as rare now as it was then. I’m glad to hear that. If diagnosed early enough, it’s not so bad.”
He found Angel Airlines for Veterans on the Internet and said he’s been “incredibly pleased” with the service. There are some angels over there. All that you’ve done is greatly appreciated.”
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