Avera Medical Minute: Bone marrow transplant patient finds her strength

PIERRE, SD (KSFY) - Sometimes you don't realize your own strength until you're tested. Carrie-Lynn Romeo is sharing her story about her battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. "He put this in your path so you can overcome, so you can do something great like be an inspiration and help people," she said.

Carrie Lynn Romero Avera Bone Marrow Recipient

The effects of chemotherapy were difficult. "I lost my hair and that was a really big part of it. I used to have long hair, like way down here. And now it's coming back and I'm really grateful to be alive."

Carrie-Lynn's treatment included a bone marrow transplant, including the search for a match among her family. Her youngest son was a match. "He was just my baby I didn't want to use him," she added.

The scope widened and to their surprise, her half-sister was a match.
"It was like a miracle because that normally wouldn't happen and it's crazy because she didn't have any antibodies," Romero reflects.

Dr. Vinod Parameswaran, Avera hematologist, and bone marrow transplant physician describes the bone marrow transplant. "We don't rely on the chemotherapy alone to kill the cancer...the source of the cells is from another donor. We rely on the immune system of the donor to establish itself in the patient to do the job of killing the cancer," he said.

Carrie-Lynn remembers the transplant, one of the easier parts of her battle with cancer. "It was an IV bag that they took from my sister. It kind of looked orange," she recalled. " I thought you had to go through surgery, and then I found out it was just the arm, and it only took four minutes."

Within 48 hours she felt different, better

Carrie-Lynn and her family live in Kyle, a five hour trip for follow up visits to Dr. Vinod in Sioux Falls, but thanks to tele med, Carrie-Lynn can have many of her follow up visits just an hour and a half away at Avera Helmsley Center in Pierre.

"Telemedicine...is a big feather in Avera's cap and it makes it easy for people in remote communities to receive expert medical attention," said Dr. Vinod. He and his Sioux Falls staff are on the tele med screen in Pierre. "We are able to interview these patients, we are able to examine them, we can use telephonic equipment to listen to their chest and heart."

While Carrie-Lynn and Certified Nurse Practioner in Oncology Jamie Hillmer are in an exam room in Pierre. "and they can have their 15 to 30-minute appointment with Dr. Vinod via the big screen TV," said Hillmer.

A full-time oncologist is ready to help in Pierre.

"Patients would rather get treated here. They want to sleep in their own bed, they want to continue to work and be around family and friends and so I think being able to get treatment here but yet see that specialist in Sioux Falls is ideal," said Hillmer.

Whether she sees Dr. Vinod in person Sioux Falls or telemedicine in Pierre, Carrie-Lynn appreciates the care. "My doctor said you give me a year, and I'll give you the rest of your life. and I did, and I'm so grateful."

Carrie-Lynn has found that overcoming leukemia has helped her realize other challenges in life she can take on, like going to college. "I've got perfect attendance and 4.0. I never knew I could do things like this."

Dr. Vinod has a wish for her future. "Have a good, good life. She deserves it."