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Patient pioneers new treatment for skin cancer

Patient Stories

December 03, 2019

Donald Wayne Wilbur Jr. is among the first patients at IU Health University Hospital to begin a trial using tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes to target metastatic melanoma.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

He describes it as an iced-down container with a liquid that looks like milk infused through an IV. He didn’t feel any pain, only a strange taste in his mouth.

Donald Wilbur Jr., 46, is among the first patients at IU Health University Hospital to be treated with a trial using tumor-infiltrating lymphocyctes (TILs) to target metastatic melanoma. The TILs product is manufactured from his own cells, then IL-2 is given for a maximum of six doses.

After a recent treatment nurse Monica Bates, a shift coordinator in the bone marrow transplant unit, visited Wilbur. Bates started at IU Health 28 years ago, first working at Riley Hospital for Children. She was recently one of 30 IU Health nurses who earned a place in the Distinguished Nurse Excellence Program. The program recognizes the outstanding achievements in clinical care, improving patient outcomes and championing community health. The two year Distinguished Nurse Excellence Program is designed to broaden professional development opportunities that impact the nursing profession.

As one of Wilbur’s primary caregivers Bates monitors his health throughout his treatment, checking for fever, chills, headache and other potential side effects of the infusion. Wilbur is under the care of oncologist Dr. Amikar Sehdev.

He was first diagnosed with melanoma in 2010 when he discovered lumps under his left arm. He had his first surgery a year later.

“I was treated with pills and they worked for awhile and then stopped working. When I went to the doctor they said nothing else is working and I am a good candidate for this trial,” said Wilbur, a lifelong resident of Indianapolis and graduate of Ben Davis High School. In his spare time he enjoys camping at Indiana state parks.

“I’m hoping this treatment works. I’ve been in the best care here – the nurses, doctors, everyone has really taken care of me,” said Wilbur.

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