Doubling the Odds for Beating Cancer

February 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Gina Grein

After six months of strange but explainable health occurrences—low energy, a leg bruise, discolored gums—Gina Grein went to her doctor.

She was immediately sent to the ER where she received four units of blood. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed the worst: Gina had acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The prognosis was grim—10 months to live with no treatment; a 39% chance of survival with standard chemotherapy.

After five months of chemo, Gina’s cancer went into remission, only to return a year later. Her care team at UW Medical Center recommended a progressive procedure: after head-to-toe radiation and transfusions, Gina received a double cord blood transplant donated by two generous moms.

Gina Grein

Success. Relief. Remission.

Twenty months later, Gina is slowly rebuilding her immune system, her energy is returning, and she’s excited to be back at work, if only for a few hours a week. Gina says she is grateful for her care team, the blood donors, and the parents of the now-toddler boys whose donated cord blood saved her life.

“I think about those donors every day,” Gina says. “I’m grateful more people are aware of cord blood donation. Without it I wouldn’t be alive.”

Bloodworks partners with 12 hospitals to collect cord blood stem cells used in cancer treatment.

Help rebuild a life. Schedule your appointment to donate blood today.

Doubling the odds: Gina’s cord blood story

August 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

gina-healthyIn the summer of 2012, Gina Grein was constantly tired. She thought it was from working two jobs and needing extra rest. In November, Gina noticed a large bruise on her calf, but figured she had just run into something. Her sister had been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), and Gina’s focus was on her sister’s health.

Her dentist even noticed that her gums had even changed color, but they felt perhaps a change in toothpaste was to blame. It seemed to go away.

Everything was explainable. I had never been sick in my life.

On New Year’s Eve, Gina went to the grocery store and barely made it home. She recalls sitting down on the couch and waking up six hours later.

Over the next few days, she could hardly eat or get out of bed. It’s the flu, she thought, but a weird flu. After a few days of calling in late or being sent home from work, she asked a friend to take her to the doctor.

Gina’s bloodwork showed a 50% blood loss, but she still thought she had caught a virus.

The doctor said, ‘I don’t think you have the flu. Go to the ER.’ I was like, ‘how can I have a blood loss with the flu?’

She received four blood transfusions over the next four days.

A bone marrow biopsy confirmed the worst: acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Gina was released from the hospital in Puyallup, and sent to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) the next day.

The prognosis wasn’t great: SCCA oncologists gave her 10 months to live with no treatment, and a 39% chance of survival with standard chemo.

But there was another option: adding a trial drug called “the hedgehog” might up her odds of beating AML to 70%. She would be the first patient at UW on this regimen.

gina-hospital

Gina was hospitalized at UW Medical Center a for seven days straight, with around-the-clock IV chemo. She received more than five months of treatment.

Thanks to the chemo and “the hedgehog,” her AML went into remission for a year but returned.

Doctors put her onto another trial drug. She did’t feel sick as she had been before, but her blood counts were down to zero.

A stem cell transplant would be Gina’s only hope of a cure.

She received blood transfusions every two to three days while doctors looked for a bone marrow match.

Siblings have a 25% chance of matching a patient’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA), the marker that helps your immune system determine what belongs in your body and what’s an invader. Out of Gina’s five siblings, only two were eligible to be considered. One was a partial HLA match, and one was a zero HLA match. There were no qualified unrelated donors in the bone marrow database.

Then her UW physicians decided on a novel procedure: a double cord blood transplant. Gina would receive cord blood from two donors to increase her odds of success.

Cord blood units can successfully engraft with an HLA match that is less exact than the matches required for a bone marrow transplant from adult donors, resulting in lower probability of graft versus host disease.

On December 13, 2014 Gina checked into UW Medical Center for five rounds of chemo and one round of head-to-toe radiation to kill off her bone marrow and immune system, and the next day received two units of cord cells from two anonymous infant boys.

The transplant itself took 40 minutes, 20 minutes per unit. It’s no different from getting blood – the recovery part is the hard part.

Gina now shares an immune system with baby boy #2, and likens recovery to stepping back to infancy:

Every childhood shot is gone, so it’s hard for people to understand that I can’t be around sick people. Chicken pox, measles - I don’t have an immunity to those any more.

Twenty months later, she’s in remission with no evidence of disease. Rebuilding her immune system has been harder than she imagined, but her energy is coming back and she’s excited that she’s able to work a few hours a week at her local Home Depot.

Gina has nothing but gratitude. She feels fortunate to live in an area with outstanding medical facilities like UW Medicine and SCCA.

She’s grateful to the local blood donors who sustained her during her treatment, and to the infant boys – now toddlers – who allowed her to live.

I think about those donors every day, and their parents. I wish you could  write a note to the parents, but I just feel grateful that cord blood donation is now starting to have the awareness that it can to save somebody’s life, because without that I wouldn’t be here right now.

Molly’s cord blood story: Reflecting on a great moment

May 6, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Safeco Field

When Molly Olsen was in labor with her daughter Judith in 2006, one of the nurses at Swedish Ballard asked her if she wanted to donate cord blood.  She agreed, signed the consent forms, and paid no attention to the collection while she bonded with her baby girl.

Molly didn’t even remember that she had donated Judith’s cord blood until she got the call that she’ll never forget in 2011.

It was the middle of the day. I was walking out to the car, putting my daughter in the car as well. The phone call was real quick: “it’s BloodworksNW. We wanted to let you know that the cord blood you donated has been matched with a 42-year-old man with leukemia.”

She thought at first that she was being asked to donate bone marrow; the situation didn’t hit her right away.

And then she realized the donation had a personal significance too.

I just thought of Michael, and I couldn’t believe that this thing I had done so offhandedly might have saved someone’s life.

Michael Josh  Molly

Michael, left, poses with Molly and another friend.

Molly’s close friend and colleague Michael died at age 30 from leukemia, the first person in her adult life to pass away.

He was a very dynamic person, a writer and artist, and had just written a play. He made the most of his life, even knowing it was finite in a very extreme way.

Michael kept his illness a secret from Molly and his other friends until just before he went into the hospital; Molly was shocked and devastated when she found out. She recalls that he didn’t seem sick until he received a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor.

She moved to an apartment closer to his to help out after his transplant, and when she visited him in the hospital, Michael would take Polaroid pictures and put them up on his wall.

After Michael died in 1997, Molly moved to Seattle.

Today, she’s a Senior Program Manager for a mobile messaging company and enjoys every moment with her grade-schooler: “We have the most fun!” Molly says.

molly-judith

Judith understands that someone out there had a chance to live because of her.

She was a little young to make all the connections, but she knew that something good had happened because she was born. It was really a great moment.

Because cord blood donors are always anonymous, Molly and Judith will never know the outcome, but they’re happy they were able to bring hope to someone who needed help.

I was really grateful that you guys called me. It would have meant just as much to Michael.

Jaime’s story: saved by blood and cord blood donation

March 14, 2016 at 11:18 am
Jaime Scaggs, in red, poses with other members of Team Jaime.
A friend gave Jaime this monkey on the day she was diagnosed; the friend heard the news and left it at Jaime's house for her to find when she got home. This monkey has been with Jaime through every treatment and visit to the hospital, and brought great comfort to her when she was scared and the outlook was uncertain. Jaime brought her monkey to the drive to comfort her friends and former colleagues who were nervous about donating.
This special wrap was done by Juliette for our last donor of the day- the only walk-in, and unaffiliated with the group. He just happened to come across the drive while at the Columbia Center and decided to save lives.

Jaime Scaggs had just turned 39 when what she thought was a cold turned out to be Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). Jaime says,

Your life turns upside down when you hear CANCER. Everything changes for you and your family in an instant.

AML affects the body’s ability to produce red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. It progresses rapidly, and can spread to the brain and spinal cord, skin, and gums.

Over the next year I underwent three rounds of chemotherapy, total body irradiation, months in the hospital, hours and hours of blood and platelet transfusions, all leading to a lifesaving cord blood transplant.

The intense chemotherapy to treat the cancer destroyed Jaime’s bone marrow. She needed a stem cell transplant to replace her immune system but wasn’t able to find a compatible bone marrow donor. Fortunately, a new mom had made the decision to donate her baby’s umbilical cord blood to a public bank 12 years earlier, and this donation was a match for Jaime.

On March 14, 2014, Jaime received her lifesaving stem cell transplant.

The journey doesn’t end there.  This battle results in your body being unable to produce your own blood cells (red/white/platelets) while you recover, sometimes for years.

There were extended periods of time when I had daily transfusions.

Jaime received more than eight gallons of blood components over the course of her treatment.

Jaime and her family, friends, and co-workers (“Team Jaime”) have participated in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Big Climb at Columbia Tower in Seattle for the past three years. Just over a year after her cord blood transplant, Jaime completed the climb. She is one of the honorees at the 2016 event on March 20.

Team Jaime hosted a blood and bone marrow drive at Columbia Center on February 20 to raise awareness about the need for blood and bone marrow donors.

The drive registered 34 donors, with 15 first-time donors, and added eight potential bone marrow donors to the Be The Match registry.

Jaime is grateful for everyone who donated at the drive and the 64 people who saved her life during her treatment for AML.

This all would not have been possible without people just like you taking the time to make a difference by donating blood and platelets and the work of Bloodworks Northwest.

Jaime is proof blood donation saves lives! Schedule your next donation or learn more about organizing a blood drive.

Raise $75 for Swim for Life and you could win a kayak!

July 22, 2015 at 2:31 pm

kayak-personal

Single, stable kayak seeks active, fun-loving companion. Must be willing to raise $75 dollars or more for Swim for Life. Enjoys the outdoors and spotting dragonflies, bald eagles, osprey, kingfishers, houseboats, sailboats, floatplanes, and psychedelic sunsets. Do you have strong, sculpted shoulders? Let’s make beautiful adventures together!

Swim for Life is August 19! Dozens of teams of four swimmers and a kayaker will swim 2 1/5 miles across Lake Washington from Medina Beach Park to Madison Park for a great cause.

This year’s swim raises money for both BloodworksNW’s Bone Marrow and Cord Blood programs. The stem cells in bone marrow and infant’s umbilical cord blood can be used to treat blood cancers, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases, but over 70% of patients in need of stem cell transplants do not have a match within their family. That’s why growing the bone marrow registry and increasing the size of public cord blood banks is so important.

The funds raised at Swim for Life will help expand our community cord blood bank and facilitate matches made with bone marrow/stem cell donors in our area.

This year, we’re again adding a little incentive for participants to raise money. Anyone who raises $75 or more for the event by August 12 will be entered into a drawing for a brand new Future Beach Fusion 10 kayak and cart.

This eye-catching kayak features a padded seat, cup holder, adjustable footrest, generous storage hatch, and multi-channel hull for your total comfort and stability on the water. You’ll turn heads with each stroke!

Interested? We’d love to have you join! Learn more about Swim for Life at swimforlife.bloodworksnw.org

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