Celebration congratulates bone marrow transplant patients

More than 15,000 bone marrow transplants are performed every year despite severe potential side effects such as liver problems, secondary cancers, cataracts and infertility. After an effective transplant, recipients spend several weeks in the hospital and undergo continual laboratory testing.

After enduring an ordeal such as this, a congratulatory celebration seems in order.

A crowd of 800 patients, family members and staff from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center gathered in the Special Events Center on Saturday to celebrate survival and recovery during a bone marrow transplant reunion.

The event, themed as a western “round-up,” featured several speakers, which included patients, physicians and family members of cancer survivors whose lives were saved by bone marrow transplants.

Claudio Anasetti, who serves as division chief of blood and marrow transplant at Moffitt, also spoke.

“The heroes of the blood marrow transplants are the patients,” Anasetti said.

The highlight of the program was a first-time meeting between a patient and a matched, unrelated bone marrow donor. This meeting was special, because due to confidentiality rules, unrelated donors and recipients are not allowed much contact. For the same confidentiality reasons, the two were simply introduced to each other and the audience as Mr. Strong and Curtis.Curtis, a Kentucky physician, was the two-time donor whose bone marrow saved Strong’s life, but Curtis said his role in the process was minor.

“It is not what you do for the patient, it’s the strength of the patient that gets them through,” he said.

Strong, the donation recipient, told the crowd that his blood type had changed to Curtis’ as a circumstance of the transplant. Strong recalled writing an anonymous letter to be sent to his donor, the only contact allowed, and then took time to thank him again in person.

“I’m only here because you made the selfless, humanitarian act of giving me a part of yourself,” he said to Curtis.

The program continued with a video montage of photographs and interview segments with Moffitt bone marrow transplant patients past and present. The guests were told at this point that each of the tables was set with a box of tissues for this segment.

During the montage, crescendos of cheers and applause came from tables around the room as pictures of loved ones flashed on the screen.

The program concluded with a role call of donor recipients ordered by the number of days in remission from their cancer.

According to the Moffitt Cancer Center’s Web site, the bone marrow transplant procedure involves giving the patient high-dose chemotherapy – with or without radiation – to kill cancer cells. This regimen also will destroy normal bone marrow cells, or stem cells. Because of this, the marrow cells need to be replaced. The patient is restored by the infusion of healthy stem cells, which have been collected from either the patient or a donor. Stem cells can be collected from the circulating blood or from the bone marrow. The transplant occurs when these healthy stem cells are given to the patient.