Faith and a fully matched sibling help beat back severe aplastic anemia | Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation

Faith and a fully matched sibling help beat back severe aplastic anemia

In October 2017 I was hospitalized for extreme dizziness, vomiting, fatigue, bruising, and shortness of breath. As an active, healthy person, having these symptoms was worrisome. My husband took me to the emergency room, where they performed a series of tests. We waited for my results, and a nurse looked at me and asked if I realized how pale I looked, and neither my husband or I had even noticed.

At one point my blood pressure went down to 53/30 because my body was rapidly running out of blood. When the nurses realized this, they rushed me into medium care unit and requested an emergency blood transfusion.

After the transfusions some color returned to my cheeks and I felt wonderful. I thought it was over, but it was only the beginning. When I got to the emergency room, my hemoglobin was down to 3.2, (normal hemoglobin ranges from 12-14). My red blood cell and white blood cell counts were at 1 - -the normal is from 4.2 to 5.4. My platelets were at 16,000 -- normal ranges from 150,000 to 450,000.

My hematologist/oncologist told me that I had a bone marrow biopsy scheduled for the next day.  I can tolerate pain, but the bone marrow biopsy was difficult.  The reason it took so long was that there was hardly any bone marrow, in the site they choose to extract bone marrow sample from.

After being hospitalized for a few days, I was discharged, went home and rested as I waited for my biopsy results.  During that time, I prayed for guidance and answers. What will I be getting out of this? How can I help others with my experience? That’s what truly inspired me to write this article.

My doctor called me with my results and to my surprise they were inconclusive, but it was confirmed that I did not have leukemia. I was relieved it wasn't leukemia, but I still had no idea what was wrong with me. My primary oncologist referred me to another hospital to perform another bone marrow biopsy. I was stressed and frustrated, but it was the only way I was going to find out what was wrong. I got through the second biopsy and that’s when I was officially diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia.

I was asked if I had a healthy sibling for a bone marrow transplant (BMT. Little did I know my 14-year-old brother Jose’s stem cells could potentially save my life and provide a permanent cure to my disease. Jose and I submitted our HLA type kits to determine whether he would be a match. This process took two weeks. It was a Friday evening on December 15th when I had just finished getting a platelet transfusion ---  my doctor called to tell say my brother was a full match!

I was then transferred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston on January 25th, Texas, to be in the same state as my brother. I had to have yet another bone marrow biopsy -- my third biopsy in 3 months. My BMT on January 30th of 2018. I was inpatient for 22 days post-transplant, although it was very difficult time for me due to side effects from chemotherapy.  Once I was discharged from the hospital my counts started to move back closer to normal range. I was starting to feel good and I could finally do things a normal person could do. My follow up visits went from 3 times a week to once a week and now once every 3 months.

My labs have been very stable, I already went to my first concert and traveled another state. My mental and emotional health have taken the most time to heal but I've put it all in prayer and lately I've felt liberated from fear and anxiety. Last week was my first time not wearing a wig in public and I get complements from at people every day about my short hair which is truly empowering.

This experience has truly taught me to value life, to live every day like is my last and to never ever take anything for granted. Life is truly about surrounding yourself by people who care about you, enjoying the little things, and taking it one day at a time.