In 2006, 12-year-old Kameron Kooshesh temporarily moved from California to Durham with his parents so that he could get a bone marrow transplant with Duke’s Joanne Kurtzberg, MD. He had just undergone three years of chemo for acute lymphocytic leukemia, and his cancer had returned. His mom researched pediatric bone marrow transplant programs nationwide and chose Duke for her son.
Kooshesh quickly bonded with Kurtzberg and others on his team, from physicians to nurses to case managers. “They knew me and my family so well,” he said. “We trusted them as we would a family member. Duke felt like my home.”
Kooshesh’s bone marrow transplant initially went well, but he developed severe graft versus host disease (GVHD) that didn’t respond to standard treatment. Kooshesh knew of some other kids who had died from GVHD and wondered if the end had come for him.
>Kurtzberg was aware of a drug that might help, but it was still in clinical trials. She won a compassionate-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. “Just a couple of infusions of this drug, and I was cured,” he said, “truly cured.” Kooshesh believes he wouldn’t have gotten that drug if he’d been treated at another institution. “Dr. K. is absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “She has a mastery of basic science and clinical and translational medicine that few others have.”
Kooshesh graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2022 and is now a resident in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. He plans to devote his career to improving stem cell transplants and reducing GVHD.
“I now do the exact kind of research that served as the basis for the drug that saved my life,” he said.