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Murphy To Undergo Chemotherapy Doctors Confirm Archbishop Has Leukemia; Hunthausen Expected To Arrive In Seattle


Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, the spiritual leader for 353,000 Roman Catholics in Western Washington, will undergo chemotherapy treatment for leukemia as soon as his condition has stabilized, doctors said Tuesday.

Murphy, 64, is suffering from acute myelogenous leukemia, a serious disease of the blood and bone marrow, blood specialist Dr. David White confirmed at a news conference. The archbishop was admitted Sunday to Providence Seattle Medical Center when he failed to respond to treatment for persistent flu-like symptoms.

“His spirits are remarkably good,” said the Rev. George Thomas, vicar for ministers in the Seattle archdiocese.

“He seems to be very calm and very peaceful,” Thomas said, noting that Murphy’s brother and sister and other family members from his Chicago hometown had arrived Monday.

The archbishop who Murphy succeeded here - the outspoken and often controversial Raymond Hunthausen, now retired - was expected to arrive Tuesday from Montana.

With leukemia, abnormal white blood cells crowd out healthy white cells, which help people fight infections. It also suppresses platelets and red cells in the blood, leaving patients vulnerable to repeated infections and other problems.

Murphy was undergoing dialysis to address reduced kidney function related to the leukemia, and apheresis, a process that strains out leukemia cells in the bloodstream and reduces their number, White said.

Doctors expect to decide today when Murphy will be able to begin chemotherapy. The treatment usually takes just seven days, but it is followed by waiting to determine whether the disease has gone into remission. The regimen of treatment and waiting lasts 3-1/2 to 6 weeks, White said.

He declined to say what Murphy’s chances are, noting that general rates really do not apply to individual cases. But he said that statistically, full recovery is “not the most likely outcome.”

The ailment can be fatal, but many patients experience long-term remission, although that is less likely for those over 50, according to the 1993 edition of Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary.

The short-term prognosis is uncertainty, White said. Doctors will know more over the next week as Murphy moves past the initial, acute stage of treatment.

“He will not be out of the woods until he’s out of the hospital,” he said.

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