Avera McKennan and the Avera Transplant Institute have hit another noteworthy milestone; more than 800 transplants have been performed at the Sioux Falls Hospital and that includes bone marrow transplants. We met up again with a young man who is alive today because of it.
Justin Keegan is only 23 and has really been on a roller coaster ride to hell and back, a couple of times. He found out in November 2007 he had a very aggressive and fast growing form of leukemia (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia or ALL). After extensive chemo therapy he went in to remission, but the cancer came back in his spinal fluid in October of 2008.
When we first met Justin in early February of last year his diagnoses wasn't good. His doctor Kelly McCaul with Avera Hematology and Transplant said his only real hope of survival was through a bone marrow stem cell transplant. First he had undergo nearly lethal doses of chemo and radiation to wipe out the leukemia before introducing the new stem cells. He got the transplant at the end of February 2009 at Avera McKennan which is the only bone marrow transplant program in the state of South Dakota.
Dr. McCaul says, "The procedure itself is relatively simple. It looks like a bag of blood is hung and infused through a vein and those stem cells will home into the bone marrow and set up shop and start to grow."
Justin says, "The bone marrow transplant was a very weird experience. The night I got it, my friends and family were there. I fell asleep and was out of it for 3 days and I don't remember much. When I came out of it, I was miserable. My throat was bloody, I was spitting up stuff, I couldn't drink water, and I couldn't get out of bed. I was in the hospital for about 2 months at the beginning. And then for about 2 to 3 months I would have to come in every day to have blood drawn."
Dr. McCaul says he's come a long way since then, but it's still too early to say he's in remission.
Dr. McCaul says, "He's doing well. Ass well as any of us could have hoped for to be honest."
After a very hard year, Justin is trying to get back to his life as a college student at Southeast. A life he knows was made possible by a complete stranger. No one in his family was a match, so he had to rely on the National Marrow Donor Program Registry. A 22 year old woman from somewhere in the world donated her bone marrow stem cells. At the one year mark they can find out each others names and decide if they want to meet.
Justin says, "Yeah, I plan to meet her. My sisters want to go with me when I do."
He doesn't know what he would say to her, but I can only imagine the conversation will start and end with Thank You.
7 out of the 10 people who need bone marrow transplants, have to depend on unrelated donors that's why the National Marrow Donor Program is so important. The process for applying to be part of the registry is simple and only takes 10 minutes of your time.
Click HERE for more information or contact:
The Avera McKennan Transplant Program
PO Box 84610
Sioux Falls, SD 57118