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Annie Tighe – A Second Transplant Saves Annie

This is the story of my beautiful granddaughter Annie, who celebrated her 13th birthday this April 2014.  It’s also the story of Annie’s big sister Katherine, as well as of her mother Melissa, and her father, Tom (my son). 

When my husband and I picked Annie up from pre-school in December of 2005, we noticed bruises on her arms and legs. Melissa looked over her body closely that evening and counted 14 bruises! She immediately took Annie to her pediatrician, who took one look at her and said, “Take her to The City of Hope.”

The City of Hope is a fine research center and hospital in Duarte, CA, outside of Los Angeles, close to Annie’s home in Pasadena.  After Annie got a blood test there, Melissa received a call the next morning to bring Annie back immediately, but to beware of getting into an automobile accident en route because Annie could bleed to death! This was the beginning of a very long and scary journey to heal my granddaughter.

At The City of Hope, doctors diagnosed her as having aplastic anemia.  Aplastic anemia is a rare and very serious disease of the bone marrow which, incidentally, was fatal for Madame Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In speaking to a doctor there, Melissa and Tom mentioned that, at birth, Annie’s cord blood had been banked at a commercial cord blood bank. The doctors seized upon this blood as the blood to implant into Annie because, unfortunately, her sister was not a match. 

February 13th, 2006 was transplant day. Annie received her cord blood through an IV drip. While the whole process was an ordeal, Annie bounced back very well in comparison with other patients because her body didn’t reject her own blood.  Afterwards, there was a long period of time for recovery to be sure she would be all right.  One hundred days after the transplant, an important milestone for BMT patients, found Annie passing her tests with flying colors.  Our family rejoiced but, unfortunately, there were clouds on the horizon.

July 7th, 2007 had to be one of the darkest days of our lives.  Annie relapsed into active aplastic anemia.  We don’t know why this happened and may never know with complete certainty but, to our horror, it did happen.  In subsequent years, many different medications and strategies were used with Annie, but they did not heal her. 

Finally, in May of 2013, Tom and Melissa made the decision that Annie should receive a second bone marrow transplant. When she checked into her room at the City of Hope, Melissa wrote there was a “certain peace that comes with handing Annie’s care over to a medical team.  Excluding her hospital stays, it has been eight very long years trying to keep her safe on literally an hourly basis.”

Annie received her second bone marrow transplant on May 14, 2013  - this time using an unrelated matched donor who lives somewhere in Europe.  Although this transplant was difficult and painful at first, when she began to recover she consistently received good news from the hospital until she was released to go home about a month later.  It is now September 2014 and Annie continues to live a normal life, free from the disease. 

The City of Hope makes the recipient of a bone marrow transplant wait three years to meet his or her donor to be sure the transplant has worked and the recipient is cured.  Annie has one year to go.  Each spring, the City of Hope has a big celebration in which the donors meet the recipients. Next year will be Annie’s year.  We will bring her donor from Europe to California if everything works out and he wants to come.

This is Annie’s and my family’s story.  Please help the many people who struggle with this disease with money and prayers for life-saving research.