Transplant offers hope
Donor match: After long search, bone marrow match for New Hampshire native
In October, Steve Mahoney Jr. was still waiting on his miracle — a bone marrow donation match that could save his life. His parents, Laura and Steve Mahoney of Peterborough, were also anxiously waiting. Now, a donor has been identified, and he is in the midst of undergoing irradiation treatments to get his body ready to introduce the donor marrow into his system, in an effort to treat the Stage IV Hodgkins Lymphoma he was diagnosed with in November 2012.
Steve’s parents arranged a marrow drive in Peterborough in November, which added 14 potential donor names to the national registry. It’s not a lot, said Laura in an interview Wednesday, but it’s more than many marrow drives generate, and every name added to the list is a potential life-saver.
“The organizer [from the Rhode Island Blood Center] told me if one person came in because they truly wanted to be on the registry, and wanted to help, that they’d consider it a success, so we thought 14 was pretty good,” said Laura, though the family doesn’t know where Steve’s match is from.
“We were very relieved and grateful,” said Christine Mahoney, Steve Jr.’s wife in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday. Not only had Steve’s doctor’s identified a perfect match, there were two other suitable donors on the registry. “It felt great to know we had options, if [the doctors’] first choice of a donor fell through,” Christine wrote.
The kind of transplant Steve, South Carolina resident, will be having is a peripheral blood stem cell transplant. Instead of having marrow extracted from the donor with a surgical procedure that involves removing the marrow from the bone with a needle, allogeneic transplants use stem cells. When a donor match is found, they are given injections to increase the amount of stem cells. Then the donor sits and, in a procedure similar to a blood draw, the blood stem cells for donation are separated from the blood with a machine. The remainder of the blood is returned to the donor through a needle in their opposite arm. The process takes up to eight hours to complete. Finally, tomorrow, Steve will be able to receive the cells, which will hopefully send his cancer into remission.
Usually, the donor is found among the patient’s healthy relatives, generally a sibling, who is more likely to have compatible marrow. In Steve’s case, there was no match to be found, so the family had to turn to the national bone marrow registry to see if a match could be found from among people who had signed up to be donors. Lucky for Steve, he found his match, and the donor was willing to go forward with the transplant he hopes will get him back to a healthy state.
The donation is only done after the patient has already undergone radiation and chemotherapy. The transplant can completely or partially cure diseases linked to marrow, which include lymphoma cancers, sickle cell disease and some auto-immune diseases. But it’s not without risks, too. There are a host of potential side effects, and the patient’s immune system has to be lowered so that the patient’s body doesn’t fight the invading marrow, meaning any infection can be a serious one.
“Almost too many risks to list, but it is his best option for any chance of a cure. There are of course risks from the from the chemo, risks from the radiation, and then risks from the transplant itself,” wrote Christine. “But of course the alternative is much worse, so we just accept the risks and keep moving forward. I would say he is motivated by knowing that he has to get through this tough part to begin to get healthy again. I think the doctors gave him realistic expectations at the beginning. Steve told me it is ‘as bad as he expected’ it to be.”
Laura said she had conflicting emotions about her son’s transplant, which is set to happen Friday. “It’s a combination of very exited and kind of scared. It’s exciting because this is something he has to have for any hope of recovering, but scary because there are still things that can go wrong,” she explained.