Spotlight a Survivor: Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML): Greg's Story

“It’s weird to say this, but illness forced me to make this work/life balance that I’d been working on.”

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Greg Hirons 

Golden, Colorado 
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia 
Transplanted in 2021 

Many thanks to Colorado Blood Cancer Institute, the American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy and Incyte for helping us share Greg’s story.  

For many years, family physician Greg Hirons hoped to strike the right balance between serving patients within a bustling practice and his desire to be home, enjoying life with his wife, Wendy, and son, Sam. It was a tough equation to solve. And then, he got sick.  

“On April 3rd of 2019,” Greg recalls, “I woke up with a significant headache. I went to work, seeing patients with my head so bad that, by the time I was done, I couldn’t really open my eyes.” When his staff insisted he go to the ER, Wendy picked him up and took him to the local hospital, where worsening symptoms prompted a rapid transfer to the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute (CBCI) in Denver.  

En route, Greg, “in typical physician fashion,” as he describes it, asked to stop at a drive thru. “I said ‘Can we just stop so I can eat first? I’m gonna be in the hospital for a while.” Unfortunately, his self-assessment was all too accurate; that was the last ‘civilian’ meal he’d have for weeks. At CBCI, a bone marrow biopsy revealed the ultimate source of his headache: acute myeloid leukemia (AML).  

Virtually overnight, Dr. Hirons pivoted from being the competent professional in charge of treatment, to a vulnerable patient awaiting answers. He entered an odyssey of treatment including punishing drug protocols, a remission, a relapse, an allogeneic stem cell transplant in 2021 and learning to live with ensuing GVHD. It was an experience that ripped the known world out of his hands. Greg recalls, “I was loving my job, and loving my patients, and I felt that this was how I was supposed to be contributing, using my gifts. And then, overnight, it was gone.”  

And yet, Greg perceives himself, and his family, as exceptionally fortunate: “We had every possible piece of support going through this. We had a home, health insurance, every privilege, we had support from family, friends, and community. And it was still brutal. What about people without even one of those sources of support? How much harder would it be for them?”  

This fundamental concern for others extends to patients who struggle to find a match for transplant. In his own moment of need, Greg quickly matched with three potential donors, one of whom – Griffin Beaney, 26, from Connecticut – donated without hesitation. “I text him all the time,” says Greg, “I’ll say ‘Hey I just went on a bike ride, thanks to you.’” For many patients, of course, the process is exponentially more fraught. To help educate others about the need for donors from different ethnic groups, Greg and Wendy are now active volunteers with NMDP, formerly BeTheMatch. 

Indeed, spreading the word has become a family affair. After a first year of college out of state, Greg’s son Sam transferred closer to home, to the University of Colorado, where he got involved with a donor program. Greg proudly says, “Sam got all of his friends to swab!” Sam’s roommate matched a patient almost instantly, and happily agreed to donate. “Sam gave him his neupogen shot every day,” says Greg, with audible amazement at how this circle of giving has expanded beyond him.  

Greg credits his wife Wendy with laying a foundation of healing for both him and Sam, during the toughest times, by “somehow supporting Sam and making his high school years as normal as possible.” Though Greg still worries about the impact of his illness on his son, he’s clearly proud of how Sam has weathered the upheaval, often with inventive forms of support. Greg recalls a time when he was stuck recuperating at home, unable to attend Sam’s many soccer games. A coach kindly arranged livestreams, and often, after scoring a goal, “Sam would look up at the camera and form a heart with his hands.”  

It’s now been five years since the day Dr. Hiron’s life changed in the space of an afternoon. “It’s weird to say this,” he reflects, “but illness forced me to make this work/life balance that I’d been working on.” These days, he works mostly from home, on a schedule his GVHD-damaged eyes and stamina allow. Greg describes family time as the best possible medicine, “We can just be sitting around together laughing or out on a hike or skiing. If it’s the three of us, it's the absolute best.” 

Colorado Blood Cancer Institute (CBCI), a part of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center, is a FACT accredited program that provides comprehensive hem-malignancy care including autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplant and is a certified commercial and research CAR T provider. CBCI also performs transplants for autoimmune disorders and multiple sclerosis. CBCI is celebrating its 32nd Anniversary as a transplant program and has performed over 5850 BMT’s since its inception and we perform > 330 transplants annually. We are committed to scientific investigation of the most progressive treatments dedicated to cure cancer.   

The American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (ASTCT), formerly known as the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, is a professional society of more than 2,200 healthcare professionals and scientists from over 45 countries who are dedicated to improving the application and success of blood and marrow transplantation and related cellular therapies. ASTCT strives to be the leading organization promoting research, education, and clinical practice to deliver the best, comprehensive patient care.  

Incyte’s commitment to patients with critical unmet medical needs goes beyond our work researching and developing medications, and includes supporting educational initiatives for the transplant community. Incyte partners with organizations such as BMT InfoNet to fund innovative solutions for the transplant community, working to help remove access barriers to Incyte medications and cultivate programs to support patients throughout their journey.