Leukemia Patient Scrambles to Find Medication


POSTED: Friday, May 27, 2011 - 9:18am

UPDATED: Friday, May 27, 2011 - 9:19am

Shortage of the drug nationwide

He was diagnosed with a vicious form of Leukemia 10 days ago. Duane Olson was very active before he was struck with the fast moving cancer. He was in the air force for 23 years. He retired as a major. His last job was as a systems design engineer and deputy program manager for general electric before retiring.

"I was playing golf on the 7th. By the 18th there, running chemo."

If the news of having Leukemia weren't bad enough, what he learned next was even more devastating. The drug Olson needed to stay alive was nowhere to be found, at least not in the states.

"We could not get ara-c for him at any hospital in the valley, could not get it through the supply company that the hospital uses. MD Anderson could not help us out, our regional cancer center."

With her husband weakening by the minute, Mary Ann Olson who is his wife and a former nurse knew that not being treated quickly was a death sentence.

"Thank god for Mary Ann. Mary Ann is a former RN and did a lot of the legwork for this or you know, and the coordinating with Dr. Shenkenberg, so without that team, I don't think I’d be looking at any great prospects."

Mary Ann reached out to dozens of relatives and friends throughout the country in hopes to find that much needed Cytarabine.

"Literally, the patient sat in the hospital while we scrambled for 4 or 5 days trying to get this drug to save his life."

And luckily the Olson’s got the drug. They didn't get it from the valley though, they found it in Alabama. this drug, along with other drugs for Leukemia are getting harder and harder to find, making it more challenging for doctors to treat a patient. It’s so rare to find that the life saving drug is on an FDA list of critically short drugs.

"The situation with the Cytarabine shortage has been very critical over the past six months. This is the first time in its history over 40 years that Cytarabine has been in shortage in the United States."

"This is all over the country. I have colleagues all over the country and they're going through this right now. So it's a very very serious problem."

Olson is done with the first round of chemotherapy. He is scheduled to begin the second round of chemo in several weeks. Doctor Shenkenberg is hopeful he'll get Cytarabine in time.

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