Bone Marrow Transplant Recipients Give Thanks

By Malissa Lichtenwalter

Every day, hundreds of calls go to the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be the Match Registry” in the hope that a marrow “match” can be found. Annually, around 10 Rush patients receive a call from the Rush bone marrow transplant team that they have a match.

During a recent event at Rush University Medical Center, three Rush bone marrow transplant survivors shared a glimpse of their lives before, during and after they received a very special gift — a marrow donation from the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match Registry. Each is thankful to his or her Be the Match donor and spoke about their insights as transplant survivors.

Stronger Every Day

Luis Monzon thought he had the flu and went to an emergency room when he awoke one day and was too weak to work. Within hours, he learned he had leukemia and was eventually referred to Rush for a marrow transplant.

Following is an excerpt from Luis’ cancer blog.

On August 10, 2010 I was admitted to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit on 10 Kellogg. This was also the only admission, of the 15 plus, where I was voluntarily admitting myself. I didn’t come through the emergency room. I didn’t require a wheelchair or stretcher. I had a full head of hair. I was at a healthy weight. My blood counts were good. My energy level was acceptable. I felt fine; almost normal. Yet here I was being admitted again knowing full well that I was going to be made sick in order to get better. I felt that at 25 years old I hadn’t experienced life or true happiness yet. I remember thinking that for the past year all I have experienced is pain and before that, I felt that my life had very little meaning. Somehow, I fought back my emotions and told myself that my expiration date was not up for a really long time.

Now, he is getting stronger every day and working on a new full head of hair.

Comforted, Reassured

Andrea Moline-Yarger was busy with her life. A husband, kids (including triplets), work, dogs and tortoises where thought to be the cause of her aches and pains and she was sent home with a diagnosis of a strained back and prescription for pain medication. Another doctor suggested she take a week and rest on the couch since she was working, a busy mom and “just a stressed-out lady.”

Then one morning, she woke up with shortness of breath. As a Red Cross instructor, she thought it might be a good idea to practice what she teaches. She went to the ER and promptly was admitted to intensive care. After receiving numerous blood and platelet transfusions, she learned that she had leukemia. In her words, she promptly went into denial, which was “a really happy place to be.”

Within days, she was transferred to Rush and still was in the midst of shock of the diagnoses. How do you just stop a schedule that includes a son in high school, triplet girls, a Brownie troop and a religion group and life? As she spent time with the staff at Rush, she began to feel comforted and reassured by the team. With each encounter with the Rush team, she felt comforted and reassured.

One turning point was on a Sunday night around 9 p.m. Parameswaran Venugopal, MD, returned from an out-of-state lecture and came to see her that night. She had been fidgeting in her room. Dr Venugopal gave her a schedule plan, which in turn gave her the confidence and focus. Her two sisters were not a marrow match. A call from the Rush bone marrow transplant team went out to the Be the Match registry and she received her marrow transplant in January 2010. It was not easy, but she was fortunate and had a supportive family that also donated platelets at Rush on her behalf. Now she is a vibrant wife, mother and active member of her community once again.

Not Just Tired

In the spring of 2002, Lance Oleson was a normal college senior, or so he thought. With finals approaching, he knew he was tired and thought a good workout would cure him. One evening he got back to his apartment and his roommates told him, as college roommates will, that he looked like “garbage.” So, like any regular college student, he called for a pizza, and then called his dad. After his dad told him to go to the ER, he did and learned the news that he was not just tired; he had leukemia. After receiving six units of red cells and two units of platelets, he was allowed to return home, rest and take his finals. The following Sunday, he graduated from college and on Tuesday he admitted himself to Rush and began treatment that eventually led to a marrow transplant.

Now he keeps finding himself back at Rush. During his first experiences as a patient, he gained an appreciation and respect for the care he received from the nursing staff and doctors and how the whole team worked together. With the encouragement of his wife, he became a nursing student, and now he is starting a career as a nurse at Rush.

All three were comforted and encouraged by the wonderful caring nature of the Rush nursing staff and the strength of the 10 Kellogg staff. They trusted and recognized how the bone marrow transplant team worked cohesively to care for each one of them. In addition, they were very conscious and appreciative to their family, friends and anyone who donated blood and platelets. All three received countless transfusions and in Luis’s words,

Without these blood products many people would not survive cancer treatments; myself included. Thank you”.

When you sign up for the Be the Match registry or donate blood or platelets, you are not just affecting the recipient’s life. You are making an enormous impact on someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, and his or her dog, cat and the community.

For information about donating blood or platelets at the Rush Blood Center, or information on Be the Match Registry at Rush, contact Malissa Lichtenwalter, Rush apheresis blood donor recruiter at blood_donor@rush.edu or (312) 942-7824.

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