University of South Florida

Grateful Patient Series: Dr. Jolan Walter with Kimberly Weeks


Kimberly (Kim) Weeks has spent a lifetime with conditions doctors could never pinpoint causes for or new diagnoses added to her list of chronic conditions. Across her life she always had reoccurring asthma, bronchitis and ear and sinus infections, among other ailments.

“It seemed like every time we would go to the doctor they would say, “You have this’ and ‘Now this is going on,’” Kim said, an avid animal lover who works at a veterinarian clinic in Bradenton, Fla.,

In the spring of 2019, a sinus infection turned into double pneumonia, and she had to be placed on a ventilator for two days. Her doctors were considering removing part of the then-32-year-old’s lung. But they were hesitant to perform the surgery because they were still unsure what was making Kim so sick.

That led Kim to seek treatment from USF Health Jolan Walter, MD, PhD, division chief of the USF Health Pediatric Allergy and Immunology programs in the Morsani College of Medicine.

“I soon established that this is not the primary problem with the lung, but maybe her immune system is making her prone for the disease,” said Dr. Walter, who eventually diagnosed Kim with a version of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) referred to as leaky SCID.


Jolan Walter, MD,PhD

Leaky SCID is an atypical immune deficiency in the bone marrow that prevents white blood cells from maturing, which hampers their ability to fight infections. These cases may remain unnoticed for years before emerging with organ-damaging effects as the patient’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue.

“Not only has Kim lost her immunity … she also acquired autoimmune complications,” Dr. Walter said.

The autoimmune complications included vitiligo, which causes the skin to lose color in blotches, and alopecia, or sudden hair loss. “Over time, it progressively got worse,” Kim said.


DNA samples

Dr. Walter determined that the only solution to restore Kim’s immune system was a bone marrow transplant, or hematopoietic stem cells. It came with risks.

“It was not an easy decision,” Dr. Walter said.

Treating leaky SCID with a bone marrow transplant is experimental, so Kim was sent to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) hospital in Maryland for the procedure.

“I don’t want to die, that’s my biggest fear,” Kim said.

In May 2021, Kim’s brother donated bone marrow for the transplant. She was the eighth person in the country to undergo the procedure for this condition. She was hospitalized for 45 days.

In the year since the transplant, Kim’s health has steadily improved, and she hasn’t seen a return of her symptoms.

“Overall, Kim being a year out of her transplant and the way she looks and feels is one of the biggest gifts that I can get from my career,” Dr. Walter said.

Now 35 years old, Kim can look forward to enjoying her life with family, friends and furry friends thanks to the excellent care provided by Dr. Walter and her team.


Dr. Jolan Walter with Kim Weeks during a follow-up appointment.

“She’s brilliant; she ensured that I’m going to be around to see my nieces and nephews graduate high school, college and be married,” Kim said.

Kim’s treatment was so new that Dr. Walter chronicled her case as the senior author in an article under review for the “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice”with former USF Health Pediatrics chief fellow Maria Chitty Lopez, MD, who is currently affiliated with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, serving as a first author. Kim’s case was also included in a study recently published by Nature Immunology.

Several USF Health team members of Dr. Walter’s laboratory have contributed to Kim’s case including David Evan Potts (MD & PhD student), Dr. Krisztian Csomos (research associate),  Melis Yilmaz (student intern), Boglarka Ujhazi  (biological scientist) and several past and current fellows in training in USF Health Allergy Immunology (Drs. Natalie Diaz-Cabrera, Tara Saco, Leah Ismael) and colleagues from our community (Dr. Roger Danziger).


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