Tony Lamanna has taken a break from fighting crime in Hillyard to take on something tougher: a rare form of plasma cancer threatening his life.
The disease, a multiple myeloma called light chain deposition disease, remains somewhat of a mystery to oncologists. These cancer cells gather in the plasma in bone marrow and interfere with the body’s ability to manufacture blood.
The only treatment is high-dosage chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplantation.
For years Spokane-area patients such as Lamanna would have to travel to Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to be treated. They then would spend weeks sequestered in special apartments while the transplanted stem cells took root and restored the body’s immune system. The results were excellent, but the cost and inconvenience were drawbacks.
Today these patients can be treated by Cancer Care Northwest’s Dr. Hakan Kaya while staying at either of Spokane’s two downtown hospitals, keeping patients close to home while saving them thousands of dollars.
Lamanna, 38, has worked in the Spokane Police Department for 13 years, following in the law-and-order footsteps of his father, who was an officer in North Idaho, including Spirit Lake.
A few years ago Lamanna complained of fatigue and of numbness in his hands and feet. His doctor diagnosed polycythemia, a blood disorder.
About a year later, he went to his doctor for a routine physical and blood workup. The tests revealed abnormal protein levels.
Visits to specialists followed. During the summer months their suspicions were confirmed, and Lamanna was referred to Kaya.
Kaya first harvested stem cells from Lamanna’s body.
Drugs lure the stem cells out of the bone marrow and into the bloodstream, where they can be extracted in a process similar to dialysis. These stem cells are frozen while the chemotherapy phase of the treatment begins.
After the chemotherapy killed Lamanna’s bone marrow and the cancer cells, Kaya transplanted the harvested stem cells at Deaconess Medical Center. The procedure is called an autologous stem cell transplant, which means using the patient’s own stem cells; an allogeneic transplant relies on cells from a donor.
Kaya said the procedure eases the risk of complications that can arise from receiving another person’s stem cells.
He has performed 56 of these autologous transplants in the past five years as director of the Inland Northwest Myeloma/Lymphoma and Transplant Program. He anticipates more than 20 patients this year and hopes to expand his referral base for multiple myeloma patients into Montana.
The cancer specialist left his native Turkey to further his studies in the United States. After a fellowship at Wake Forest University, where he studied blood cancers and bone marrow transplantation, he eventually arrived at Spokane’s VA Medical Center in pursuit of extending his residency in the United States.
Kaya acknowledges that he arrived in Spokane by necessity and stayed accidentally.
While awaiting his green card in September 2000, he was injured in a car accident. The experience, he said, changed the way he practices medicine.
“I’m a better doctor because of it,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be the patient, so I sit next to them and we talk about whatever they want.”
The accident also helped Spokane retain a specialist that bolsters the region’s expanding medical expertise.
Kaya has a sunny demeanor that sits well with patients such as Lamanna.
“It’s been incredible,” Lamanna said. “Can’t ask for better care.”
Lamanna looks forward to getting back to work and continuing his efforts for Honor Flight. He organizes trips for veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. He draws strength from these men and their families, some of whom visited him along with scores of fellow police officers in his room at Deaconess, he said.