Manteca Police officer Stephen Dowswell’s search for a bone marrow donor was a success.
Now he is braving the 100-day recovery period with no immune system present in his body to fight off as much as a cold that could threaten his life.
The lack of an immune system prevents him from seeing his children and other family members, he said.
It has been a near nine-month struggle for the officer and his family. His colleagues at the police department have stepped up to the plate to help him survive financially with money deducted from their pay checks to cover the family’s home mortgage.
>Dowswell talked on the telephone this week about his bout with leukemia, will to fight the disease and to win the battle despite having been told several times he would die. He and his wife Linda are living less than 30 minutes away from the USF Medical Center in a small apartment that was loaned to them. He needs to be in close proximity to the hospital for three months.
The Manteca officer was stricken last summer as was city refuse truck mechanic Randy Karim who is on track following Dowswell in his medical treatment. Both men were the focus of a marrow transplant drive that was held in the City Council chambers several months ago. Karim was interviewed by telephone Thursday and his story will appear in the coming days in The Bulletin. City workers had turned out in large numbers to take part in the marrow registry for both men.
Dowswell talked from his bed this week saying it was difficult to exert any energy, adding that he walks around their apartment a few steps at a time – as much as possible. Climbing the steps to the upstairs bedroom is quite a challenge, he added.
He said he is so fortunate that his wife Linda is a registered nurse and stays with him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Her mother is at their home in Valley Springs taking care of their four children.
“I take 25 to 30 pills a day and she spreads my medications out for what time I need to take them,” he said. “She is also running an intravenous (IV) pump. It is a lot of work to take care of a cancer patient.”
Has great respect for home care nurses
The MPD officer said he will always have great respect for home care nurses after seeing the hours his wife has dedicated to him. He explained that she left her nursing position at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto from shift work to taking care of him day and night.
The rehabilitation has been so very hard for him, he said, losing another 30 pounds in addition to what he had already lost before the bone marrow transplant surgery. The matching bone marrow is believed to have come from a donor in Germany or Australia. Dowswell said his arms and legs are just like sticks, but he vows he is not about to give up the fight.
When he first went to the hospital, thinking he had the flu, he remembers being told that if he had waited another 24 hours he would have died. Later, in another hospitalization, a team of doctors at St. Helena entered his room and told him he had only a 25 percent chance to survive and it was time to make final arrangements.
“I’ve never fought for my life like I’m fighting for it now,” he said, noting he had served 10 years with the Manteca Police Department and about five years with the Modesto PD.
Dowswell had his bone marrow transplant some six weeks ago on Feb. 22 at the University of California at San Francisco. For the first week after the surgery he was fine, but then he said he got extremely sick and had to be put back in the hospital. He had just been released from the hospital the first of April.
The transplanted cells had rejected his own body cells a week after the five-hour surgery with the medical team having to order an endoscopy and a colonoscopy.
The couple is currently isolated in that small San Francisco apartment about a mile and a half from the medical center. People from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lodi volunteered their secondary living quarters in the City that had remained vacant since their older parents had passed away years ago.
“When grandma and grandpa died they never sold it. They re-did the paint and the carpet in traditional Japanese,” he said of the apartment.
The recuperating Manteca officer said he couldn’t have met and fought the horrific challenges without the help of the police department personnel and in particular the current chief of police, Nick Obligacion, who went the extra mile for them.
Earlier in the year doctors said he was in remission from his cancer, but he was dealt another setback when a large tumor developed over his heart and pleural effusion set into the equation threatening the lungs.
He said he almost didn’t make it and the news once again was grim. The tumor needed to be treated before a bone marrow transplant could be seriously considered. A transplant was his only hope of curing the aggressive form of leukemia. Dowswell endured it all though physical, mental, emotional and spiritual challenges that took their turns nearly overwhelming him.
No words can express his appreciation of PD
“There are no words I can say to express my appreciation to the PD for them watching over my family since I have been so incapacitated,” Dowswell said. “I have to be near the hospital for the 100 days until this transplant process is complete.”
After that period of time he hopes to be going home, only having to come back to the hospital weekly to have his blood counts checked on a routine basis – again being with his family.
“I am an old country boy and I can’t stand all the cement over here,” he said of San Francisco. “Linda hangs by me every step of the way. My kids are tired, too, but they are trying to keep their spirits up hoping that daddy is going to actually come home instead of just hearing promises that daddy is going to come home.”
He said while he is concerned about the lack of the POA union’s movement toward a promised settlement with Workmen’s Compensation Insurance, his only interest now is to rehab and to get better.
Dowswell said the new cells are in the process of building an immune system. A complete blood transfusion along with the marrow transplant has changed his blood type to that of the donor as well as changing his DNA. The identification of the donor is not allowed for a year after the transplant, he added.<
He remembers having total body radiation twice a day, five days a week.
“At the time it didn’t do anything but a week later the inside of my mouth started falling apart and my teeth were loose,” he said, with a throat that was so raw he couldn’t eat by mouth and had to be fed with an IV tube.
“The worst part of the whole disease has not been the disease, but watching the people I love so much react to knowing what they have to do for me. I’ve watched my sisters cry, have seen the looks on their faces that are so sad. It’s so humbling; I don’t have words for it. Those are definitely the hardest times, watching the people who I love and who love me so much being hurt by this,” the officer said.
Dowswell said he is a big believer in prayer and in faith. Admittedly his faith has been challenged but he added that God shows love for him in many ways especially through his wife Linda who has never once left his side since the trauma began. He is also thanking people for donating blood, signing onto the marrow registry and for their prayers that he believes have sustained him on a day-to-day basis.
Anyone wishing to help the family with donations may contact any Wells Fargo Bank and refer to the Officer Stephen Dowswell Foundation as the recipient.