UF’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit succeeding through research and team care

 

Patricia Beiter, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, received a bone marrow transplant using stem cells collected from umbilical cord blood at Shands at UF

At 68, Patricia Beiter still ran three miles a day, biked and swam and had just earned her teaching degree. It was August 2008 and she was looking for her first job — she’d always wanted to teach kindergarten — and preparing to run a half-marathon.

But a routine blood test revealed a problem. Beiter was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Eight months later after chemotherapy and treatment with the drug Gleevec, she was in remission, but she needed a bone marrow transplant to help keep the disease from coming back, stronger and deadlier. The problem was, after a worldwide registry search, doctors could not fi nd a match.

“I said, ‘Lord, there has to be another way,’” Beiter said.

There was. At just 4’9” and 102 pounds, Beiter’s tiny stature meant she was a candidate for a different procedure using stem cells collected from umbilical cord blood. Beiter came to the UF Shands Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, led by John Wingard, M.D.

This access to the latest advances in care and science are just part of what makes the UF Bone Marrow Transplant Unit one of the premier centers in the Southeast. UF is one of 20 institutions participating in a National Institutes of Health clinical trials network focused on improving outcomes in bone marrow transplant. The group has already conducted 24 trials.

“Transplant in many instances is the only curative form of treatment,” Wingard said. “These are very deadly diseases that can be tough to control.”

Bone marrow transplant facts:

• Although the procedure is called a bone marrow transplant, most stems cells are collected straight from the blood through a process called apheresis.
• More willing donors are needed, particularly among the African-American and Hispanic communities. A simple swab to the cheek is all that is necessary to be listed on the registry.
• Want more info? Visit the National Marrow Donor Program at bethematch.org

Much has changed over the years in bone marrow transplant, with national and international registries linking patients to matches and advances like umbilical cord transplant and half matches giving patients other options, Wingard said. In many cases, a patient’s own healthy bone marrow stem cells are collected prior to aggressive treatment and transplanted back afterward.

UF is currently participating in NIH-funded studies looking at better ways to diagnose post-transplant fungal infections, one of the most worrisome complications, Wingard said. UF’s BMT experts have also developed tools to help patients’ spouses deal with stress and have completed a study on quality of life in donors. They are also collaborating with cardiologists on an NIH-funded study using stem cells to speed healing to damaged heart tissue.

In addition, the center’s team approach to clinical care plays a crucial role in the program’s success. Aside from its nine physicians, the unit also has two social workers and six bone marrow transplant coordinators. These coordinators work with patients like Beiter from the moment they are referred to UF&Shands, coordinating their appointments, dealing with insurance and everything in between.

“We get close to our patients because we are there in the worst time of their lives and help guide them through that,” said Sarah Mountney, B.S.N., a Shands at UF bone marrow transplant nurse coordinator.

Two years after her own transplant, Beiter is back to her exercise routine — even when she was a patient she walked everyday from the Hope Lodge to Shands at UF — and is working as a teacher. Eventually she hopes to organize a bike race to raise money for Shands and the Lymphoma Society.

“I praise God every morning that I am alive,” she said. “It has been a beautiful journey. I would not trade it for the world.” — April Frawley Birdwell

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UF’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit succeeding through research and team care

At 68, Patricia Beiter still ran three miles a day, biked and swam and had just earned her teaching degree. But a routine blood test revealed a problem. Beiter was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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