Terry Killman and his grandson, Eli, are two peas in a pod. Terry was the first person to hold Eli when he was born. He even cut his umbilical cord. Terry’s wife Michelle calls the two, ‘inseparable.’
So when Terry was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia almost three years ago, it was devastating to both Eli and the man who’s raising him as his own son.
“Eli’s pretty important to me,” says Terry, “he keeps me young. He runs around and he’s definitely full of energy.”
“He knew Eli needed a strong father figure. And when Terry found out he had cancer, it really gave him something to live for,” said Michelle.
Terry’s cancer was diagnosed early, but it escalated dramatically, to the point where his oncologist gave him a grim ultimatum: “He said start treatment now or you’ll be dead in five days!”
Says Terry, “In about four months I went from just not feeling good, to really not feeling good. I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t eat that well and I just didn’t have the energy to do anything.”
Michelle tells more about Terry’s drastic decline: “And he wasn’t getting any better, and then it really started going downhill. He lost over 100 pounds. And he just kind of looked like he was wasting away
For the former Navy engine man, there was too much to live for, for him to give up. So he agreed to an adult stem cell transplant. “It was devastating,” said Terry, “but it was like, what do you do? We have to try something, because I’m not ready to go yet.”
Everybody in Terry’s family agreed to be tested to see if their bone marrow adult stem cells would be the match. Terry’s older brother, Vic Killman, was the match. “I felt real low, because he’s my brother, I love him. And I wanted to do something, even if it’s anything,” said Vic. "So I told Mom, I said, if I can do anything, you let me know and I’ll be there and then when I found out I was a match for him, I said, alright, this is one time in my life I can do something right!”
The adult stem cell transplant was done just four weeks later at Via Christi Hospital in Wichita, Kansas.
Terry is eternally grateful for the stem cell transplant and for his bone marrow donor brother. “Vic, he saved my life, you know. There is no other way to put it. Vic is the only reason I’m here. And he had no qualms, not even a second thought about giving me his stem cells. He is the only reason I’m still alive and walking right now, is because of him.”
“Living today, since I’ve been through the adult stem cell transplant, you look at things a lot differently. I take time out to be with my grandson. I take time out to be with my wife, my family.”
Terry and his family have become advocates for adult stem cell research. “Before I got sick, I didn’t know anything about adult stem cells. The only thing I thought, just like everybody else, when they mentioned stem cells, I thought embryonic stem cells. What I’ve learned is, embryonic stem cells are generally used for just testing and research. Adult stem cells are used for healing people.”
Says wife Michelle, “And to know now what they’re doing with adult stem cells is absolutely amazing. So far, everything’s going pretty well. And, you know, it just, it’s still amazing that he’s here. And like I said, I’d like to keep him for a few more years. And actually, a lot more years.”
Terry has nothing but hope for the future. In fact, since his transplant and recovery he has gone back to college, so he can teach what he did for 20 years in the Navy--diesel mechanics. He knows he wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for adult stem cell research and a few other equally important things.
“Well, my family is very important. I mean if it wasn’t for the love of my family, I wouldn’t be here. We’re very tight. You trust in God, to carry you through because between family and faith, you’ve got to have both to survive.”