A bone marrow transplant saved her husband — but births of their three kids after his cure marked another medical marvel

Sarah, David and Daniel Huff, pose for a photo
Sarah, David and Daniel Huff, pictured years ago, were born through artificial insemination after their father was successfully treated for leukemia in 1990. Courtesy of Linda Huff

I had my first child at 36 and twins at 40. We conceived through artificial insemination due to my husband’s sterility — a side effect of the bone marrow transplant he received through Fred Hutch. The treatment saved his life. I consider those three births just another example of how we all beat the odds.

My husband, Daryl Huff, and I are now empty nesters. The twins are getting ready to start their second year of college. So it’s a very emotional time in my life. For years, I could not even talk about the period when my husband was undergoing treatment for cancer. But as I just turned 60 in May, and with my mother dying not long ago, I am especially reflective. I am ready to share this story. 

We married October 22, 1988. Almost nine months later to the date, I rushed him to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. When more and more blood work was taken and his doctor actually showed up in the E.R., I knew it was much more than an ulcer. By 4 in the morning, we still had not gotten definitive news from the doctor, just: "He has a bleeding ulcer but that's the least of his worries.”

When we were finally told he had leukemia, these were my only thoughts: I never knew anyone who survived leukemia, we were newlyweds and we had no children. Then, he was given hope in the form of three words: bone marrow transplant.

We had to wait three long months to change my insurance policy to one that would cover a BMT. We also needed a match. His two brothers did not come close to matching. But his dad was a five out of six antigen match, which I believe is just incredible. His dad became Daryl’s marrow donor.

Daryl Huff
Daryl Huff Courtesy of Linda Huff

We left our home near Nashville, Tennessee, to travel to Seattle for the transplant, arriving in March 1990. He received the BMT in April. Daryl was in a sterile hospital room that circulated filtered air. He described it this way: "It was hell and the worst thing I can imagine going through physically.”

After the transplant, he developed graft-versus-host-disease in his gut. He threw up constantly — 15 times in a day was a good day. They told us prednisone could stop the nausea, but they labeled it a last resort because of the drug’s long-term effect of weakening bones and joints. As soon as he took the first prednisone pill, Daryl stopped throwing up. The prednisone would become both a lifesaver and a curse. But he is an incredibly strong person. Whatever he sets his mind to, he has always done it. For my part, I can remember thinking: How in the world could the human body go through so much?

The bone marrow graft took. I ran up and down the hall that day screaming with joy. We left for Nashville at the end of July. On the way home, we landed in Dallas for a stopover and got a big shock as we got out of our seats — his joints were hurting from the high dosage of prednisone he had to take the first year after his transplant. They continued to ache from that point forward. Eventually, he had to undergo two hip replacements.

One year later, we came back to Fred Hutch for his post-transplant checkup. It was the most emotional thing I've been through. We love the Hutch and we praise the work. We met people there from all over the world, including a man who had been diagnosed with cancer after he had flown over the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant following the 1986 explosion and fire that released radiation into the atmosphere. Daryl’s one-year exam went very well. 

Today, his body is not good due to the prednisone, (he now needs a shoulder replacement), but he is rarely sick and he is cancer free.

While I could not talk about this period for many years, I did keep a huge journal from our Seattle stay. I wrote in it from the day we arrived until the day we left for Nashville after the transplant.

Sarah, Daniel and Linda Huff.
Sarah, Daniel and Linda Huff. Courtesy of Linda Huff

I read it through just one time after we got home. I let my mother read it. And ever since then, it’s been at the bottom of my cedar chest. I guess when I am gone, my kids can read it and hold on to it. This story is just as much about them and their lives.

Two years after donating the stem cells for Daryl’s transplant, his father died very unexpectedly of a massive heart attack.

He did get to see me pregnant the first time — we drove to Atlanta and surprised him when I got out of the car 7 months pregnant.

He got to see David, our first son.

He would have been even more thrilled to know we had two sons to carry on the Huff name. 

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