Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vitek’s leukemia no longer in remission

John Engelhardt photo

by Laura Pepper

Two and a half weeks after riding in his first race since being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) one year ago, jockey Justin Vitek’s leukemia is no longer in remission.

His mother, Kathy Vitek, said that test results Monday showed that his leukemia is back despite the treatment he had been receiving in Kentucky.

“All the stuff he did in Kentucky, it was good, and they didn’t expect it to come back,” Kathy Vitek said. “He was feeling so good, and all of a sudden he got sick last week and he just started feeling really bad. … Now he has to go through [chemotherapy] again to put it in remission again, and wait for a donor.”

Justin Vitek, 35, spent Tuesday at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and was scheduled to be released later that night. Vitek’s mother said they will return to the hospital Wednesday so Justin can be admitted and begin chemotherapy.

After Vitek’s leukemia went into remission the first time, he continued treatment in preparation for a possible bone marrow transplant, should it be needed. His mother said a transplant will occur once Vitek is in remission again.

“They’ll know if he’s in remission in like 28 days, and then, depending on if they have a donor or not. they will proceed with the transplant,” she said. “If not, then we’ll have to wait around and hopefully get a donor. He has one sister [Kim Heath], and so far she is not a match. They are retesting her to make sure there is not a way they can use her bone marrow.”

Vitek first was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2008 and immediately began chemotherapy. When he began to feel better, Vitek planned a return to riding. In November, he initiated conditioning to become physically fit to ride competitively again by working horses at trainer Tom Drury Jr.’s barn.

On February 14, while in remission, Vitek rode in his first race since being diagnosed with leukemia and finished seventh aboard Drury’s Model’s Memo.

AML is a cancer of the myeloid line of white blood cells, characterized by the proliferation of abnormal cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.