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One morning in 1991, as Ken Stoll was getting ready to go to work, he felt a pain in his sternum. He was 47 years old.
“It was a tightness in my chest area. It took me to my knees,” he recalled. “I thought I was having a heart attack.”
His doctor thought he may have “pulled something” and prescribed an some anti-inflammatory pills, but Stoll, an attorney who lives in North Little Rock, “still didn’t feel right.”
His doctor sent him to a hospital for tests. A few days later, Stoll got the news.
The tests showed he had multiple myeloma. “I didn’t know what that was,” Stoll said, “but it didn’t sound good.”
Stoll’s physician agreed that the diagnosis was serious. But he offered some hope.
“He said, ‘There’s a man at UAMS who just came up here from M.D. Anderson. He’s supposed to be really good.’ ”
Stoll called Barlogie’s office for an appointment. “I hung up,” he recalled, “and within 15 minutes, Dr. Barlogie called me. That was on a Friday. He said he’d made arrangements for me to come in the following Monday.”
Tests and bone-marrow biopsies confirmed the diagnosis.
“Dr. Barlogie told me they could treat me in the standard way, with just chemotherapy and drugs, and I would have in the neighborhood of maybe three years.
“He said with a bone-marrow transplant, they could maybe extend that to five years — which sounded better than three.”
Stoll’s wife was 46. His three children were in high school and college. “So,” he said, “I started the treatments.”
Barlogie put Stoll on a comprehensive regime he called “Total Therapy I.” It included chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, followed by more chemotherapy.
“They get you pretty much as close to dying as you can get,” Stoll said, “and then they bring you back.”
That was in December 1991. By the following February, Stoll had gone into remission. Slowly, he was able to return part-time to his job at the U.S. Attorney’s office.
At this point, Stoll’s life-expectancy could still be measured in less than a handful of years.
“But,” Stoll explained, “Dr. Barlogie’s a believer in tandem transplants.” So a second bone-marrow transplant was conducted in April. Because his immune system had been so weakened by the treatments, Stoll was placed on the virus-fighting drug interferon.
Throughout the process, he understood the risks of Barlogie’s “high-dose treatment.”
“But,” he said, “I also understood that by not taking that risk, there wasn’t much hope at all.”
The treatment worked. Then, Stoll said, while he was in remission, “Dr. Barlogie wanted to do another collection of stem cells, in case I ever needed them in the future.”
Eventually, Stoll was able to return to work full-time and to “carry on a normal life.” By the end of last year, off of drugs completely, he had begun to see Barlogie only on an annual basis.
In his years as a patient, Stoll has seen Barlogie’s treatment regimens progress from Total Therapy I, where he began, to Total Therapy III. While he has survived, he’s known many who have not.
“I think I came through this a lot better than a lot of other patients,” he said. “I’m blessed and I’m fortunate.”
Stoll now volunteers at MIRT, working the waiting room outside the chemo section. He makes coffee and talks to patients, some of whom come to the institute for up to seven months at a time.
“I tell them I had my treatment 14 years ago,” he said. “It seems to help out a little.”
For a moment, Stoll’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke of Barlogie. “I believed in him,” Stoll said.
“He’s very personable. Most of the time, he rides a motorcycle to work. He usually comes in wearing either blue jeans or chaps from that. He hugs me. He hugs my wife.
“He’s very smart and he’s very caring, and he’s always wanting to know, ‘Did everything go okay?’ because if you had some problem some place along the line, he wants to know about it. He has a caring interest in patients — more than just a doctor in research.”
After a pause, Stoll added: “If there’s any controversy, put me on Barlogie’s side.”