LOCKPORT, NY- Buffalo Bills doctor Andrew Cappuccino received worldwide recognition six years ago for saving the life of former player Kevin Everett. Recently, however, the doctor became a patient himself. For months, he's been battling a form of leukemia. The Lockport spine surgeon returned to work Thursday and sat down with Two On Your Side to tell his story.
Dr. Cappuccino said it all started with a routine stress test back in August.
"They drew routine blood work, and I had no symptoms whatsoever. I felt literally like a million bucks," he recalled.
But his blood count came back abnormal, and after more testing, doctors confirmed he had acute myeloid leukemia. Doctors immediately started a course of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, he didn't have to look far for the perfect match.
"My brother – a first degree relative - was a 10 out of 10 match. It was a gift. It's a miracle to be honest with you," said Dr. Cappuccino.
In his work and research, Dr. Cappuccino is using stem cells to repair spine ailments, as opposed to metal and plastic implants. Now those very same stem cells, infused into his blood from his brother, are saving his life.
This renowned surgeon, who could've gone to any of the top-notch hospitals in the country for treatment, chose to stay here at home, at Roswell Park.
"In terms of bone marrow transplantation, Roswell's unit has had the highest success rate in the country for the last three years," he said.
It also helps that his wife of 27 years, Helen, is a surgical oncologist at Roswell.
"As a physician I may have had a different series of questions that other spouses might not and you never want to feel like you're imposing on them by asking, but we really wanted to understand the process," said Dr. Helen Cappuccino.
She specializes in breast cancer at RPCI and did not treat her husband. Still, Helen had to find the delicate balance between being a doctor and being a wife.
"I wish I was the one who could've gone through it, but he was very heroic," she said.
"Helen spent every minute at my bedside. She was my best cheerleader...I clearly could not, and would not, have done it without her. So I have a couple years of making up to do," Andy laughed.
Through these months of struggles, Dr. Cappuccino has felt an outpouring of love and support - not only from his wife, but from his 6 children, his extended family, and his Bills family. He of course, was forced to sit out the entire football season.
"I'm even more excited about going to the combine and getting back to work," said Dr. Cappuccino.
Through his experience being a patient, he feels he'll now be an even better doctor.
"A high percentage of patients that have what I have with my diagnosis don't survive, and you're forced to become a much better listener," he said. "I find that that's translating to not only my life with my children and my wife, but with my patients."
As for his prognosis? Doctors tell him there's an 80% chance he's been cured.
"Clearly, 2013, I would say if you asked anyone in the Cappuccino household, we're very happy to have it in the rearview mirror, and we're looking forward to a much brighter 2014 and the next several decades."
Click here for more information about becoming a bone marrow donor. The Cappuccino's say it is an easy process and if chosen to donate, people can save lives with very little difficulty or complication.