March 02, 2021
Daughter donates stem cells to dad, with support from child life specialists
BY Katrina Burton
Last year, Caroline Hysmith became a stem cell donor for her dad, Timothy. She was only 15 at the time.
As part of his leukemia treatment, Timothy participated in a clinical trial at MD Anderson that tested the use of stem cells from “half-matched” donors – those who match half of a patient’s tissue type. This type of transplant, called “haploidentical,” is performed when full matches cannot be found. Research has shown that half-match transplants can be as effective as those that are fully matched. Donors are usually family members.
For Caroline, it was humbling to know that her stem cells could possibly save her father’s life.
“I was really proud to be there for my dad,” she says. “I’m thankful to the medical staff who helped me get through the process.”
That team included child life specialists from MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.
Child life specialists help more than childhood cancer patients
Certified child life specialists provide patient interactions and care for more than 5,000 patients at MD Anderson each year. A small percentage of those patients are children and teens like Caroline who are donating stem cells.
“Stem cell donations can be difficult for patients who have not experienced surgery or medical procedures before,” says Sajad Khazal, MB, ChB., assistant professor of Pediatrics Patient Care. “I was impressed with Caroline’s strength and courage, and the support and resilience of the family.”
Child life specialists supported Caroline throughout the process.
“We helped her understand what to expect from her procedures, supported her during them, and advocated for her preferences,” says Danielle Buzanga, a certified child life specialist.
Child life specialists empower patients and families
With a family-centered care approach, MD Anderson child life specialists educate, develop and empower the entire family to understand cancer, and take an active part in decisions surrounding their child. It’s sometimes difficult for parents to talk to their children about diagnosis and treatment. Child Life provides parents with resources and help to facilitate those conversations with all the family members, including the patient’s siblings. They also help families find innovative ways to stay connected when some family members are at the hospital, and others are elsewhere.
The Child Life team works beside a multidisciplinary team of care providers including oncologists, nurse practitioners and social work counselors, to help patients ages 25 and younger. Together, they establish the best care plan for each unique patient, using therapeutic, educational and fun activities. Caroline was provided with booklets, videos and a host of other resources designed to prepare her to be a donor.
“I learned a lot,” she says, “and I really appreciate that someone was always there to answer my questions.”
Patients also participate in activities that teach them about the hospital environment, and interesting medical topics, such as the components of blood. The Child Life team also helps families with memory-making activities such as creating family hand molds, printing 3D images of families and making family trees.
Gratitude one year later
A year after donating stem cells to her dad, Caroline continues to excel in high school where she’s a member of the volleyball and basketball teams. But her favorite team is “Team Timbo,” which bears her dad’s nickname.
“I’m so honored to have played a part in my dad’s treatment,” Caroline says. “I’ll always be here to support my dad, just like he supports me.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
I’ll always be here to support my dad, just like he supports me.
Stem cell donor