Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Transplant – what’s the difference?

Deb has started doing therapeutic yoga to help heal and strengthen herself

Deb has started doing therapeutic yoga to help heal and strengthen herself

Deb is doing well.  She is now Day +38 and her energy level is better.  She is not napping as much as she was in the beginning.  Her rash from the Graft vs Host Disease (GVHD) is almost gone, but she needs to continue to use the cream for another week.  We take our evening walks of 20 minutes and will try to increase that to 30 minutes.  She has started doing some gentle yoga for some exercise.  Deb had completed a month long therapeutic yoga teaching training program last summer, a couple of months before her leukemia diagnosis.  She now has an interest in how gentle yoga can help cancer patients.

A few days ago a friend of mine sent me an article by Jane Brody, a science and nutrition author, which appeared in the NY Times on April 21, 2014.  The article is titled “Lifesaving Procedure With an Image Problem,” and discusses stem cell vs bone marrow transplants.  The reason this is so important is that more donors are needed, and the new stem cell way of accomplishing a bone marrow transplant is much easier on the donor.  Most ‘bone marrow’ transplants done today are actually ‘stem cell’ transplants.  The main difference between the transplant methods is how the stem cells are obtained from the donor.  Stem cells originate in the bone marrow, and in a bone marrow transplant they are harvested directly from the bone marrow.  This is an invasive procedure for the donor involving general anesthesia.  However, stem cells can also be taken from the bloodstream in a procedure similar to donating blood.  The stem cells are collected from the donor’s blood after a week of injections to stimulate the production of stem cells.  The blood of the donor is circulated through an apheresis machine which separates the blood components and collects the stem cells.  The rest of the blood is returned to the donor.  This is a much easier procedure for the donor, and the patient recovers quicker too.  Click here to read the complete NY Times article.

I am still amazed and in awe at how this life-saving procedure is a global phenomenon.  Though Deb was registered in the United States with the Be The Match marrow registry, she received her stem cells from a 32 year old man from Europe (who we refer to as Mr. International).  Mr. International donated his stem cells on Monday, March 17.  They were placed in a medical transport cooler to maintain a specified temperature (they were not frozen), and were flown to Stanford Hospital by a courier, whose responsibility was to transport the stem cells from the collection center in Europe to the transplant center at Stanford.  The stem cells stay with the courier at all times, and are taken on the airplane as a carry-on.  The stem cells arrived at Stanford on Tuesday afternoon, March 18, and Deb received her transplant on Wednesday, March 19.  Truly miraculous!  Deb is extremely grateful to Mr. International for his generosity, and hopes to make contact with him when the mandatory one year waiting period has expired.

We encourage everyone between the ages of 18 and 60 to join  It starts off with a simple cheek swab to obtain the potential donor’s tissue type.  If you are contacted as a possible match, then additional blood work is taken.  Joining does not commit you to anything; you always have the choice of whether or not to be a donor.  So think about it — many people are still waiting to find a suitable donor, and your tissue may just be the perfect match that will save someone’s life.

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3 Responses to Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Transplant – what’s the difference?

  1. Barbara Murphy says:

    Hi Deb, It’s great to hear how you are improving. We’re still praying for you. Love, Aunt Barbara

  2. Joanne OCConnor says:

    How interesting and what a wonderful new procedure. Many lives will be saved with this breakthrough. Thoughts and prayers for you and for Deb. Joanne

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Fantastic Mary Lou – thank you for keeping us posted!!! Your daughter is amazing as you are. Love and enjoy the improvement of Deb health!!!!

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