Hot Springs Village Couple Grateful to Myeloma Center

By Nathan Tidwell

“I couldn’t have made it without Deb, she’s the guardian angel,” said Tom Heau, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2018.

Deb Heau describes the day they found out about her husband’s illness.

“It was March 1, 2018. Tom came home and said, ‘I have multiple myeloma,’ and it was like he shut down — the light kind of went out of his eyes,” she said.

After an initial consultation in Hot Springs, the couple was quickly referred to the world-renowned Myeloma Center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Since its creation in 1989, the Myeloma Center has treated nearly 17,000 patients in Arkansas and around the world.

“I went online and did some research about the UAMS Myeloma Center,” she added. “I contacted someone, and they had an appointment for him the next Monday.”

Sharmilan Thanendrarajan, M.D., manages Heau’s treatment.

Tom Heau, Sharmilan Thanendrarajan

Tom Heau and Sharmilan Thanendrarajan, M.D., Ph.D.Image by Andrew Vogler

“Tom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma after he was found to have increased serum protein level and mild anemia during his annual physical exam,” said Thanendrarajan. “Fortunately, he didn’t have bone lesions or impaired kidney function, which we frequently see in multiple myeloma patients. We felt he had a favorable prognosis.”

“From start to finish, Dr. Thanendrarajan had it read spot on. Through medical brilliance, it came out very well for me,” said Tom Heau, who admits he was depressed when he initially heard the news.

“He started to perk up once we started meeting with doctors,” said his wife. “Once the infusions began, he settled into it, and he was a lot better.”

Dark periods, however, returned. They were part of the experience.

“There were times from March to December (2018) where I would go home, lie in bed with my eyes closed, and be happy that I wouldn’t have to do anything,” he said.

Thanendrarajan noted that Heau went through UAMS’ Total Therapy regimen, which includes intense chemotherapy, stem collection and stem cell transplants.

“The two stem cell transplants were really bad,” said Deb Heau. “They hit you with this hard chemotherapy drug, and seven to 10 days later he hit bottom. He got to where he would just lay around — it felt like he was dying for a few days.

“However, he would always walk into the hospital on his own two feet.”

Tom Heau’s career was in the insurance industry, and he relied on his training to process his disease and treatment, adding that it helped him to track his improvement by looking at the numbers.

“I had four intense procedures. After the fourth one I had a bone marrow biopsy, and my reading was a very small number. Dr. Thanendrarajan thought the treatment hadn’t been successful,” Heau said. “I went into a couple of gentler infusions with another drug. Around December of 2018 we did another biopsy, and the result was ‘undetectable.’ That’s what we had been trying for.”

Heau has been in stringent complete remission for more than five years and comes to UAMS every six months for a checkup, said Thanendrarajan.

As a hobby, Heau makes Trees of Hope with cancer ribbons and presents them to family and friends, including one to the UAMS Myeloma Center. Each tree’s design is inspired by the intended recipient, or a message of hope he wants to share.

“I make them out of wire and Arkansas crystals that Deb and I dig up,” he said. “My sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I decided to make one of these with mostly pink ribbons. While I was buying the ribbons, I just bought a bunch more of different colors with the intention of making more trees.”

Tom Heau

Tom Heau with a cancer ribbon tree donated to the Myeloma Center.Image by Andrew Vogler

“I love these trees,” Deb Heau said. “There’s little stories to all of them.”

Committed supporters of the Myeloma Center, the couple is sharing their story to raise awareness of the important role research has played in the care they received at UAMS and to emphasize how ongoing research in our state impacts critical advances in care and treatment for all myeloma patients. Because they have personally witnessed the significance of myeloma research, they have chosen to support UAMS’ research efforts philanthropically, not only with donations today but also via a planned gift. With these gifts, the couple is advancing pioneering research today and leaving a legacy for research tomorrow.

“I’m really big into profit and loss statements. I understand and appreciate the importance of cash flow so this organization can do two things — care for people and community outreach where we can get to everyone in Arkansas,” said Tom Heau.

“The part that impresses me is the research that needs to be done on multiple myeloma,” he continued. “This is a nasty, ugly disease but the advancements that have been made in the last 10 or 15 years are unbelievable.”

“Tom and Deb are truly genuine and giving people. Whether it’s through their philanthropy or through the hope they share with others through their art, I know that their generosity has had an impact on so many people,” said John Erck, vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement.

UAMS has made a huge impression on the Heaus.

“From the Welcome Desk to Dr. Thanendrarajan to the nursing staff to the lab people, they treated me like I was the most important person in the universe,” said Tom Heau. “I always felt like I was getting the best treatment anyone could ask for.”

“I don’t know what the future brings,” he added. “Where I am today is as good as anyone’s outcome could possibly be. I wish everyone’s outcome can be my outcome.”


Tom and Deb Heau’s gift to the Myeloma Center.Image by Andrew Vogler