Entries in Bone Marrow Transplant (5)


Cancer Survivor Meets Her Bone Marrow Donor for First Time on "GMA"

ABC (NEW YORK) -- Erika Turner's life as a happily married mother of two came to a screeching halt when her doctors told her she had leukemia.

"I looked at him and I said, 'Cancer of the blood?' and he said, 'Correct,'" Turner said.

Her condition worsened.  Dr. Miguel Islas-Ohlmayer of The Jewish Hospital-Mercy Health Blood and Marrow Transplant Center in Cincinnati, where Turner was being treated, said the leukemia was aggressive. Even with chemotherapy and radiation, the Cincinnati woman, 42, would need a bone marrow transplant.

Despite her dire circumstances, Turner was an inspiration to her medical team.

"She was filled with hope," said Karen Sovern, a bone marrow nurse who cared for Turner. "She was filled with joy. She was filled with love, and it helped carry everybody who was taking care of her through."

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Turner's situation meant she had a tough battle, and it would be even harder for her because she is African-American. For African-Americans and other people of color, it's harder to find a bone marrow match.

"The likelihood of finding an African-American patient a donor is 60 percent," Islas said. "[It's] a little bit higher for Hispanics, it's about 70 percent, and for Caucasians it's in the realm of 90 percent."

Turner waited for weeks, and she got worse. Then, she got the news that changed her life: A perfect match had been found.

"It was a male and he was a senior in college, and that's all I knew," she said, speaking of her donor.

But when the time came to make the final preparations for her transplant, Turner was about to give up.

"I was burned out. I was tired, I didn't want to go.  I fussed, I fought, I screamed. My husband said, 'Get back in bed, we'll just watch you die,'" she said. "I jumped up. I said, 'I'm going to die. Ha! I'm going to show you.'"

The transplant worked, and soon Turner was in remission. But her journey wasn't complete. She hadn't met her donor.

"I've never seen him.  I've never heard his voice," she said, "but I'm just so excited to look into his eyes, to look into his soul, and tell him, 'Thank you.'"

"I just want him to know he is my hero," she said.

Turner got the chance to meet her donor, Christopher Magoon, for the first time Thursday on Good Morning America.

"Christopher, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart with my whole soul and my whole being," Turner said.  "Thank you for giving me back to my parents.  Thank you for giving me back to my kids and to my husband.  I love you and there's nothing in this world that I would not do for you because you did it for me. I love you. I love you."

Magoon was a student at Yale University when he joined the Be The Match Registry® to see whether he was a match for Mandi Schwartz, a fellow student and hockey player at Yale.  Magoon was not a match and Schwartz later died. But one year after having his cheek swabbed, Magoon got the call that he was a match for Turner.

"I'd do it again in a second," he said of being a donor.  "It's really not that painful of a procedure. That's one of the huge myths.  Trust me, it's really not that bad.  It's like getting your wisdom teeth out. You're under. You wake up. People take care of you because they know you're doing a good thing."

Turner was overcome with emotion thanking Magoon for what he did.

"This young man, he didn't know me from a can of paint. He didn't know me. He was so willing," she said.  "I just can't find the words. He was just so willing to give his life so that I can find mine."

Magoon, who had communicated with Turner via email and Facebook while he was overseas in China teaching English, told Turner that he had the easy part of the transplant equation.

"You're the one who fought for your family," he said.  "I was asleep for the whole thing. I got to watch TV for two days.  You're the one who was sick and always believed that you were going to get better. You did, and now you can provide hope for people in similar situations across the country."

Signing up for the registry is the most important thing anyone can do, Magoon said.

"Even if you don't know anyone who is sick, you might later down the line," he said.  "Get on the registry.  Go to and get the cheek swab. It's a simple procedure to get on the registry.  That's the first step."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Leukemia Patient Nearly Dies; Twin Has Idea to Save Thousands

Courtesy of Graham Douglas(NEW YORK) -- For nearly 18 years, Graham and Britton Douglas believed they were fraternal twins.  That was until Britton needed a bone-marrow transplant because chemotherapy for his leukemia had failed.

The Fort Worth, Texas, brothers learned that they were identical twins, sharing the same DNA, and therefore Britton could not receive his brother's bone marrow because their genetic make-up was too similar to fight the cancer.

Today, at 27, Britton Douglas is a healthy, successful Dallas lawyer, thanks to a bone marrow donation by a stranger.  But Graham, knowing that he nearly lost his only sibling, has been on a mission for nearly a decade to find better ways to get more Americans to become donors.

He came up with a simple concept that could save the lives of tens of thousands of Americans with leukemia who are waiting for a bone-marrow transplant: packing a swab kit inside a box of bandage strips.

A senior creative at the New York City advertising agency Droga 5, Graham found his inspiration last year while teaching a portfolio class at a commercial arts school.

Year after year, he has challenged his students to find a creative solution to attract more donors.  Two students he refers to as the "Spanish team" -- Alfredo and Alberto -- came up with the "germ" of an idea last year, and it has now hit the market.

The consumer healthcare company Help Remedies partnered with Graham and the world's largest bone marrow donor center, DKMS, to release the new product -- "help I've cut myself & I want to save a life."  The cost is $4.

Before applying a bandage strip to a minor cut, consumers can swab their blood and then send the sample in a self-addressed, stamped envelope, along with their age and email address, to DKMS.

The donor center will then follow up to get more information on how the consumer can become a donor.  All potential donors are anonymous and there is no obligation to donate bone marrow, even if a match is found.

The three-year-old start-up Help Remedies is known for its minimalist packaging and unusual product names.  For now, the over-the-counter marrow registry kit is only available on its website.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Florida Girl with Sickle Cell Disease Suffers Third Stroke at Age 7

BananaStock/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- Alejandra Melgar is just 7 years old, but because of serious health problems, she can't lead a normal life full of fun, friends and schoolwork.

Alejandra's immunity is severely compromised because she had a bone-marrow transplant in July. The little girl from Homestead, Fla., suffers from severe sickle cell disease, a genetic condition that causes the blood cells to assume a sickle shape. Because of the shape, the cells can block blood flow and ultimately cause organ damage and strokes.

Throughout her short lifetime, Alejandra has suffered through three strokes. The third one, in October, left her with weakness on her right side and an inability to speak.

"When she was four-and-a-half years old and I was pregnant with my son, she had the second stroke," said Lilian Melgar, Alejandra's mother. "We didn't even know she had the first one, because there were no symptoms or consequences. And the third one was much worse than the second."

Her battle with sickle cell disease led to weekly blood transfusions. But after her most recent stroke, doctors told her mother she needed a bone-marrow transplant. Bone-marrow transplants are generally used to treat only the most severe cases of sickle cell anemia.

Alejandra would have to wait months to find a suitable donor. Her 3-year-old brother, Alejandro, couldn't be a donor because he also has sickle cell disease.

Her prayers were finally answered this summer, and Alejandra underwent a transplant in July at Holtz Children's Hospital Miami.

"Alejandra is recovering well. She's doing very well," Melgar said.

But she's still a long way from living a life similar to other children her age. The bone-marrow transplant left her immunity compromised, so she has to wait almost a full year before returning to school, and can't play with friends.

Alejandra receives physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy at home. Right now, the only word she can say is "Mama."

Bone-marrow transplants typically involve destroying all the body's bone marrow and replacing it with donor marrow. This is still one of the mainstays for treating leukemia.

There are often complications with this kind of procedure, because the risk of infection is high and there can be powerful side effects of the chemotherapy or radiation used to destroy the bone marrow. But about four or five years ago, new protocols were developed that don't require the eradication of all a patient's bone marrow.

"The new protocols tried to take advantage of the fact that for sickle cell disease, you don't have to replace all the cells with donor cells," said Dr. Martin Andreansky, director, pediatric blood and marrow transplant program at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center.

As a result, there is less chemotherapy and fewer toxic side effects.

Trials with this modified procedure have yet to be evaluated, but so far, they seem to work.

But so far, Alejandra is doing well. With luck, Alejandra will no longer have sickle cell disease. She will still carry the trait for it, but these people, said Andreansky, can lead normal lives.

Melgar also has another tough battle to fight. While Alejandro hasn't suffered a stroke, he is starting to have complications related to his sickle cell disease and also needs a transplant.

The Melgars, who are Latino, are having trouble finding a matched donor because there are so few donors of color.

"The problem with minorities is they are severely underrepresented in bone-marrow registries," Andreansky said.

Melgar said she's grateful her daughter found a donor, and she desperately hopes she can find one for her son.

"I want to let people know about this. People, especially kids, need bone marrow," she said. "They can save a lot of lives."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HIV 'Cure' Not a Cure-All, Say Experts

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Victor Maldonado heard German researchers claim they had cured a man of HIV with a bone marrow transplant, he said his reaction was "guarded optimism."

"Everyone is curious and heartened by news about a possible cure, but by no means is anyone swinging from the chandeliers," said Maldonado, who has been HIV-positive since 2005 and works with HealthHIV, a Washington, D.C., HIV/AIDS advocacy group. "We've been disappointed too many times."

Medical experts reacted similarly, saying that while the news could potentially lead to more research into new types of treatments, a bone marrow transplant is both risky and impractical.

"Although it may encourage hope that a cure is feasible, this approach in practice cannot be applied to the vast majority of patients," said Dr. Douglas Richman, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of California at San Diego.

The "cured" patient also had leukemia, and originally received a bone marrow transplant in 2007. The researchers, led by Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite-Medical University in Berlin, first reported the man's progress at a workshop last summer and published their findings in the current issue of the journal Blood.

But the patient's marrow donor turned out to be a special case. The donor had a mutation that prevented the virus from entering cells. Research has shown that people with this mutation are rarely infected with HIV, but finding such donors is difficult.

"These donor cells are rare. About one in 100 people in central Europe have this mutation," said Dr. Frank Spinelli, who's in private practice in New York.

"We should be clear that this 'cure' will in fact have almost no impact on the average HIV-infected patient," said Bert Jacobs, a professor at Arizona State University at Tempe.

Bone marrow transplants are also inherently risky to patients. A person's own damaged bone marrow is replaced by someone else's, and the marrow donor must be a match, and such matches are difficult to find.

The procedure is also very expensive and potentially dangerous, and with other effective treatments available, it may not be worth the risk.

"The mortality rate is approximately 30 percent when it is used in cancer patients," said Spinelli.

"With modern antiretroviral therapy there is little justification for attempting such a dangerous procedure to cure a disease that is often manageable," said Jacobs.

People living with HIV will also continue to benefit from medications that are generally easy to tolerate and help improve quality of life.

"Antiretroviral therapy has transformed HIV care over the past dozen years and represents one of the major medical accomplishments of the past few decades," said Richman.

Victor Maldonado is grateful for that.

"I'm currently on antiretrovirals, and the drugs work. There's no doubt about it," he said.

Even though he knows the patient in Germany is a rare case, he hopes that research like it will continue.

"Research is the lifeblood for finding treatments and a cure for HIV," he said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Mother in Need of Transplant Dies Despite Having Donors

Microscopic image of red bone marrow. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A mother of two who suffered from acute leukemia has died while waiting for a bone marrow transplant, despite there being registered donor matches.  Four matched donors were found in the bone marrow registry, but all four declined to go through with the procedure.

Dr. Claudio Anasetti, the department chair of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, says its not easy to find a match, even among siblings.

"Within siblings, there is only about a one in four chance of being a match," he says.  "We need to go to unrelated donor searches 70 percent of the time for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma or other blood disorders that need a transplant."

Anasetti adds, "Tissue matching between the donor and the recipient has to be very close."

It is estimated that only 47 percent of registered donors go through with the donation.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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