Kootenai | Kootenai Health | Issue 1, 2024

When the best treatment for cancer didn’t work, a new medication offered hope By Kim Anderson Jerry Swanson is tough. Not tough with muscle and brawn, though he previously had that too. Tough with a strength of character that comes only when the odds are against you and you keep on fighting. Maybe it began with his North Dakota roots or his years working as a commercial and industrial painter, perfecting his craft. It certainly showed through, years ago, when he chose a different career path. “In the ’70s and ’80s, they were using helicopters, looking for oil fields in North Dakota,” Jerry said. “I’d drive by the mechanics working on those helicopters on my way to a painting job and think, ‘That looks like fun, and I’ll bet they’re getting paid better than me.’” Jerry earned enough money painting to attend aviation mechanic school in Boulder, Colorado. After he had worked for a number of companies and expanded his knowledge through hands-on experience, Jerry’s expertise put him on the leading edge when the U.S. military began allowing decommissioned military helicopters to be sold to private businesses. Through his work with the Federal Aviation Administration, he learned the intricacies of certifying these aircraft for civilian use. Timberline Helicopters, in Sandpoint, Idaho, had just purchased two Black Hawk helicopters. Because they were among the first Black Hawks sold to a private business, the certification process had not yet been developed. Timberline sought Jerry’s help, and he was happy to join their team. The position eventually brought him and his wife, Annie, from their home in Montana to Sandpoint. Part of settling in at their new home included setting up a vintage windmill they brought with them from Montana. Jerry’s search for a concrete company to pour a slab for the windmill base was coming up empty, so he decided to mix and pour the concrete by hand. Partway into the project, Jerry found himself in intense pain. “I’ve had back pain for years, but this was different,” Jerry said. “It kept getting worse, and my doctor referred me to the emergency department at Kootenai Health.” Unwelcome diagnosis Within two hours, Jerry and Annie had their answers. Not only did Jerry have four fractured ribs and three fractured vertebrae, an imaging study also showed that his ribs, spine and pelvis were covered with lesions— the result of multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. While healthy plasma cells help fight infections, cancerous plasma cells build up in the bone marrow and crowd out healthy blood cells. This weakens the bones, causes fatigue and reduces the body’s ability to fight infection. Jerry has lived for many years with chronic lymphatic Jerry and Annie Swanson Gold BEYOND THE Standard 8