Beaumont cardiologist faces cancer fight, urges bone marrow donor registration
Dr. Steven Sooudi, a 44-year-old Beaumont cardiologist who has been saving lives since he started practicing medicine in 2003 is now fighting for his own after being diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML).
“One of the things I see with my patients is how they cope,” Sooudi said. “Some people when they get sick, their world just falls apart … and some people still find something positive. They are appreciative of life. I always tried to absorb some of that in myself, in case I ever got sick. But what I found out is there is no way you can prepare for that.”
Sooudi said that regardless of his preparation for the worst, like many of the patients he treated, he still experienced the grief of being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
Unlike many of his patients, however, Sooudi discovered his illness after a self-performed, self-ordered blood count Tuesday, Sept. 3, following Labor Day weekend.
“I had been feeling pretty good. The week before I went running and ran two miles. I worked in the hospital all weekend for Labor Day,” Sooudi said.
Sooudi said he discovered some bruises and spots on his arm and a sore in his mouth that wouldn’t heal.
“I went ahead and ordered some labs so I could tell myself, ‘I’m OK’ and then I found out I’m not,” he said.
Initially, Sooudi didn’t suspect he had leukemia, only knowing that his blood count was abnormal. A colleague of his from Texas Oncology in Beaumont confirmed the bad news with Sooudi — he did in fact have AML, a deadly cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Sooudi said he is currently undergoing chemotherapy at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The average patient goes through six months of chemotherapy, he said.
“The first (cycle of chemotherapy) is called induction. It’s a very strong one that makes you very sick,” he said. “After that, they do smaller ones, less medicine but still very strong. … As you go through they take bone marrow … and look at it under the microscope to see if the leukemia is still there.”
Sooudi said that if the cancer isn’t found to be in remission, there is a chance that he will require a bone marrow transplant.
“Some people if they don’t go into remission, they will have to have a stem cell transplant,” he said. “They will give them medicine that completely eradicates the leukemia, but it also eradicates their normal bone marrow completely. So they get some cells from another person and infuse that into the person to rescue them.
“Your bone marrow is what provides all the cells in your blood — all of your platelets that provide clotting, the white cells in your immune system, your red cells that provide oxygen. We can’t live without bone marrow. It’s very important.”
And in the worst-case scenario that Sooudi did need a bone marrow transplant, he said he couldn’t accept just any donation.
“For many people it’s a life-saving treatment, but you have to be just the right match,” he said. “To find a match is rare. You have to look at thousands of people to sometimes find a match. So, the more people that enroll (to donate bone marrow), the more lives they’re going to save.”
Sooudi said his sister is currently undergoing tests to see if she is a match, but that even though she is his sibling, there is only a 25 percent chance that she is a match to his bone marrow type. Going through a bone marrow registry may be a more viable option, Sooudi explained.
“There’s thousands and thousands of people in the registry,” he said. “In learning about all this, I was surprised to see how many people had registered themselves. It’s a good thing to do.”
Sooudi said bone marrow donor registration drives like the Saturday, Oct. 26, drive at Parkdale Mall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the Be The Match foundation are crucial to leukemia patients.
“They’re very important,” he said. “With stem cell (transplants), instead of chances being 30 percent (survival rate), your chances are 50 or 60 percent. That person’s life (a donor) might be saving … it might be someone next door to them or someone in Alaska, but it’s a chance to save a life. Without that treatment, that person is going to die.”
Sooudi, who awaits further chemo treatments, says although he has lost his hair and the sickness has been horrible, the hardest part for him has been the separation from his children.
“A lot of things have been taken away from me,” he said. “Sometimes when I am really sick, if my immune system is down, I don’t want to get a cold from my kids. So there are some times when I am in Beaumont but I can’t even see them. I have to stay away from them, and that’s been hard.”
Sooudi, who reminded that the Oct. 26 drive isn’t necessarily for him, encourages Southeast Texans to take the time to register to give bone marrow.
“It’s unlikely that someone in Beaumont is going to be my match, but increasing the number of donors and people that are willing to enter the registry helps everybody,” he said.
Sooudi’s ex-wife and mother of his two children, Dr. Jessica Jones, 41, also a physician, has worked hard to raise money for the cause, he said.
“She and my children have been most involved in this,” he said. “I’ve pretty much just been sick. I haven’t done a whole lot to organize this drive, but I do endorse it. I am a person with leukemia and I may die from this, so I just want to give something back.”
Be The Match at Parkdale Mall
Be The Match is holding a bone marrow donor registration drive Saturday, Oct. 26, in the “sunken court” at Parkdale Mall in Beaumont from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Potential donors will fill out a questionnaire and receive an oral swab to test for matching. Donors of all races are welcome, but those of African- American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American descent are especially encouraged, as race and ethnicity do matter when it comes to finding a bone marrow match, according to Benita Davis, donor recruiter for Be The Match foundation. Joining the national registery is free if you are between the ages of 18-44. If you are 45 or older, a donation is needed to pay donor typing expenses. Matches are found through DNA samples, which are obtained by an oral swab, done on-site at the drive, Davis said.
“They’re on the registry until their 61st birthday,” Davis said. “They may become a match two months from now; they may become a match 10 years from now. They may never become a match.”
Davis said if potential donors are found to be a match, the method of donation depends on what the patient needs.
“About 75 percent of the time it’s through peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC),” she said.
According to Be The Match website, PBSC donation is a non-surgical procedure.
“For five days leading up to donation, you will be given injections of filgrastim,” the website states. “Filgrastim is a medication that increases the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. On the day of donation, blood is removed through a needle on one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through the other arm.”
One in four patients like Dr. Steven Sooudi will need a bone marrow transplant. About 14,000 patients a year depend on unrelated donors, Be The Match literature states.
For more information, visit www.bethematchfoundation.org/goto/teamsooudi or call 1-800-627-7692.