Avera Medical Minute: Bone Marrow Transplant recipient grateful for support during treatment

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Kristin Van Laecken is amazed by the support she's received the past two years. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia the end of January in 2017.

"It was just numb. It didn't really sink in all that much because it was like, okay well this is what it is. How are we going to deal with it?" Van Laecken said.

She spent the whole month of February in the hospital and received a bone marrow transplant on April 11th, 2017.

"The day after transplant was kind of a hard day," she said. "We never talked about what happens after transplant because that's the biggest thing you need to focus on. And if you get too far ahead, sometimes that's not good either. I just remember in the hospital that next day, I had a panic attack."

She has learned to take it one day at a time.

"This is what we have to do today. Let's take care of today, and we'll let tomorrow take care of itself," she said.

Dr. Kelly McCaul said Van Laecken needed a transplant because her type of leukemia was high-risk.

"She had some very adverse prognostic factors, including the Philadelphia chromosome, which puts her at a very high risk for disease recurrence," Dr. McCaul said. "We would look at a donor type of transplant to use the chemotherapy and the immune system effects of the new stem cell or the new immune system."

Treatment for the Philadelphia chromosome has come a long way.

"It was typically quite devastating. Survival rates were very poor. We had a very high risk of recurrence of disease," he said.

There are now drugs that target these cancer cells that Van Laecken used during her treatment.

"We have no evidence that her disease is recurring. We think we have been able to utilize the dual process of transplant as a curative vector for her," Dr. McCaul said.

She doesn't go more than one month without traveling to Sioux Falls to give blood and have it checked. She's still on several transplant-related medications and has many more months of treatment. But for now, she said she feels good.

"I mean, almost back to normal. I get little bouts of tiredness every now and then. I have my appetite back finally. There was a long period of time when I just didn't want to eat because nothing tasted good, didn't settle well," Van Laecken said.

Her five kids have even helped keep a watchful eye on her through this diagnosis and recovery process. She appreciates the support.

"It's just amazing the love and show of support from people that I didn't even really know. To this day, I still don't know who some of them are. I didn't cook a meal for at least six months," she said.

She still takes one day at a time to figure out what she needs to be doing.

"It's a prayer every morning. God, where do you want me to go today?" she said.

Throughout the past two years, Van Laecken said many people held donor drives to spread the word about being a bone marrow donor. She takes one day at a time, so she doesn't get overwhelmed.