I qualified for a Phase I clinical trial and standard of care treatment. After my first treatment in November, my blasts were reduced from 28% to 6%. By March, my blasts had stabilized at 2%, but my counts never recovered. In June, Dr. GGM, as I call him, noted that my AML had reverted to DS. During that visit, Dr. GGM explained to my husband and me that my only option for survival was a stem cell transplant.
A transplant is a serious procedure. I had many questions and concerns: with no chemotherapy during the month of July, would my blasts be under 5%? At 72, would my age be a factor? Would I pass the four full days of testing? Would insurance cover the procedure and, even more haunting, would I have a match?
This gave me flashbacks to 1992, when my brother, diagnosed with AML, shared that it would be like winning the lottery for him to find a match. Finding no match, he died before his twin sons turned 2.
My perfect match enabled me to undergo a successful stem cell transplant
With enormous relief, I passed the tests. My age was not a factor; insurance would cover the procedure and best of all, I had three matches. My transplant was scheduled for Aug. 14, 2019.
My first match was unavailable, and my second match Dominik, who lives in Germany, could have declined for family reasons. But he unselfishly committed to donating his stem cells to a total stranger thousands of miles away in another country.
On Aug. 8, 2019, I was admitted to the 17th floor at MD Anderson, and on Aug. 14, with my immediate family rallying around me, I underwent my stem cell transplant under the care of Richard Champlin, M.D. I am both blessed and grateful for my medical team, my family, my husband, my faith, my prayer warriors and to Dominik, my hero, for selflessly donating his stem cells to me, a stranger, and for giving me a second chance at life.
My stem cell transplant recovery
After staying within 30 minutes of MD Anderson for 100 days while I recovered from my stem cell transplant, I returned home the week before Thanksgiving. Celebrating with family gave even more meaning to Thanksgiving 2019.
Two months later, my leukemia mutation reappeared, and Dominik’s cells did what they were supposed to do: they recognized the mutation as foreign and deleted it. During my next bone marrow biopsy, the mutation was gone, and my white cells, red cells and platelets were all Dominik’s. You could hear me cheering.
In just a few weeks, my feelings had changed from devastation to elation. Three months later, I developed graft vs. host disease, which resolved after nine months of treatment. My recovery continues with the new insight that being scared and being positive are not mutually exclusive.
Meeting my match
After two years of corresponding anonymously per MD Anderson protocol and then meeting on FaceTime during the pandemic, Dominik and I met in person on March 9, 2023.
Our meeting was emotional, filled with hugs and happy tears. How does one adequately thank the person who has given you a second chance at life? To finally express, face to face, my gratitude to Dominik, my genetic twin, was immensely exciting and indescribably moving. Our families are now intertwined.
Today, at age 76, I am four years post-transplant. My bloodwork is back to normal levels. My husband and I are able to travel, and I am able to enjoy my daily 3-mile brisk walks along the bayfront. I now visit MD Anderson once a year, and I continue to be in awe and appreciative of the miracle of my life.
Dominik and I encourage donors ages 18 to 55 to register to be a lifesaver for patients of all ages (infants to elders) with blood-related diseases. With a free kit and a simple 3-minute cheek swab, you, too, could save a life!