Avera Medical Minute: Patient receives haploidentical transplant for bone marrow

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Chris Hovaldt said every day is worth celebrating, but February 5th was a special day. It was the day he got a bone marrow transplant.
He received a newer kind of transplant Avera started performing in 2017.

Chris has two birthdays now. At least that's what the staff at Avera told him.

"I guess there's more cake in my future," he said.

After being sick for a couple of weeks, experiencing blood in his sinuses and bruising easily, he was diagnosed with a very rare disease called aplastic anemia. That was in July of 2018.

"His bone marrow was non-functioning. He had like an empty bone marrow," Dr. Vinod Parameswaran said, who is a hematologist with Avera.

Dr. Parameswaran said the first approach to a cure is immunosuppresssive therapy.

"See if we can overcome that effect and allow the bone marrow to flourish and recover. If that doesn't happen, then they would go for a transplant from another donor," Dr. Parameswaran said.

That's what Chris eventually needed.

"A fully matched sibling donor would be our first choice, and then after that, we do an unrelated donor search," Dr. Parameswaran said.

He suggested a haploidentical transplant for Chris though, which is a half-match donor.

"There is some identity between the patient and the donor, and using a specific technique using anti rejection medication, we can overcome those differences and allow for good results from the stem cell transplant. It also increases the availability of donors," Dr. Parameswaran said.

Because children are half-matched to their parents and siblings can also be half-matched.

"The hardest thing you'll ever do is ask them if they can donate for ya," Chris said.

"There wasn't much thought to it. It's common sense that he needs it and I'm willing to help," Bridget Hovaldt said, who is Chris' daughter.

She is 22 years old and attends Wayne State College in Nebraska. She also happens to be her dad's donor.

"I was pretty happy. It's a great opportunity to help my dad out in a way that I never thought possible. He raised me. He's done everything for me," Bridget said. "He means the world to me. I couldn't imagine not doing it once given the option."

She said it was a fairly easy process to become the donor. She gave multiple blood donations and a couple of cheek swabs before finding out she would be the chosen half-match. His other daughter and brothers were also willing to donate.

"I'm just happy to give back," she said.

"My whole family is that way. They were lined up. I'm ready. I'm ready. Give me the test. That's just the way we were raised," Chris said.

Bridget's cells were collected on February 4th. She was given growth injections leading up to that to balance what was being taken out. The collection takes between four and six hours. Chris had his turn the next day. His took less than 20 minutes.

"There's always mixed emotions, always gratifying," Dr. Parameswaran said.

Bridget said even if you're not willing to be a bone marrow donor, you can still help people like her dad.

"It could just be you donate blood or plasma a couple of times a year or something," she said.

"Because I literally wouldn't be here if it wasn't for people doing it," Chris said.

Now that he's had his transplant, Chris is just anxious to get back to normalcy, whatever that may be.

"Going to work. All the stuff people grumble about Monday through Friday and on weekends when they get up and go to work. I'm looking to get back to that," he said.

That can make so many others think twice the next time they complain about Monday rolling around again.

Avera has done about 10 haploidentical transplants since 2017.