A few years ago, Alice Laufhutte was feeling so tired she could barely function.
Although in her 80s, the Covington woman had been healthy most of her life, and her drastic change in health was of concern to her and her husband, Walter.
"For a number of months, she wasn't feeling good," recalled Walter. "She was feeling weak. She couldn't walk from one room to another without falling down."
CHERYL R. CLARKE/Sun-Gazette
Alice and Walter Laufhutte take a break on the couch in their Covington home. Alice, who suffered with extreme fatigue and weakness, now is in a clinical trial for people with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, and is doing much better.
Eventually she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a condition in which bone marrow cells are damaged, making it difficult to make new blood cells.
That results in insufficient blood cells and low blood counts.
"She was getting insufficient production of red blood cells," explained Susan Miller, a Susquehanna Health oncology certified nurse. "She was transfusion dependent and anemic."
Because her hemoglobin level was low, blood transfusions were needed to increase it.
Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Alice enrolled in a Susquehanna Health Cancer Center clinical trial.
Clinical trials are research projects for patients deemed eligible for specific treatments. Data from clinical trials is necessary for a new drug or treatment to be approved by governing agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.
Alice was put on lenalidomide, an oral medication she now takes daily for 21 days per month. Lenalidomide in the past has been approved to help treat patients with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer of the bone marrow.
For Alice, the results have been more than encouraging.
"Her blood count is back to normal," Miller said. "She is feeling like she used to. She had an excellent reception to the trial."
Every few months, Alice undergoes a bone marrow test to ascertain if her blood levels are returning to healthy levels.
Overall, Miller said she has been pleasantly surprised at the results.
She said Alice has kept up a positive attitude, which likely has played a part in her successful treatment.
"She is still on the trial and is doing remarkably well," said Dr. Warren Robinson, of the Susquehanna Health Cancer Center. "Sometimes patients do better than expected. That is what we hope for with these clinical trials."
Without medication, Alice would have continued to need blood transfusions, which can lead to any of a number of complications, including infections, allergic reactions or even iron overload.
"We were all surprised that it worked so well," Alice said. "I was getting nowhere with the transfusions."
Robinson said he was pleased that Alice volunteered for the clinical trial.
"And, her husband has been very supportive throughout this," he added.
Walter is gratified his wife's blood count is up to healthy levels.
"It's almost at the end of year, and it's finally near where it should be," he said last month.
Gone are the days when his wife needed a transfusion every two weeks.
Prior to the clinical trial, Alice also had been having problems with her memory.
"She couldn't think straight because she was so weak," Walter said. "But her memory has returned to normal."