Apr 11, 2016 10:00 AM

two pairs of hands hold a heart-shaped drop of blood

Updated September 2018.

Bone marrow transplant patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) know all too well the importance of finding a donor who is a match. 

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Maggie Kasten

Maggie Kasten, a research scientist in the Cairns Lab at HCI, also understands.

“There are patients out there looking desperately for a match, and all they can do is hope that more people get on the registry,” she says.

The registry she’s referring to is Be the Match, a database of people who offer to donate their bone marrow or stem cells to others in need (people with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma, or with immunodeficiency syndromes that attack and destroy the body’s own healthy cells). Kasten had signed up with Be the Match, but it was 13 years before she heard from the registry that she was a match for someone needing a transplant: a nine-year-old girl with a rare immunodeficiency disease. Kasten says she was thrilled to hear she finally had the chance to help someone.

At the time of the call, Kasten had whooping cough, which can linger for weeks. So the transplant team and Kasten’s physician decided on peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which could be performed when Kasten was no longer contagious but not necessarily rid of the cough. The conventional method for bone marrow donation involves taking the marrow from the donor’s pelvic bones using hollow needles, a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia. PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure similar to donating blood. After the donor’s blood is drawn, stem cells are extracted from it and transplanted into the recipient in a process similar to a blood transfusion.

“The hope was my stem cells would take hold in her body, and she would essentially have a brand new immune system á la Maggie Kasten,” she explains.

For the procedure, Kasten and her family traveled to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center, with airfare and accommodations paid for by Be the Match. At UCSF, she received injections of drugs to boost her stem cell production. The drugs caused severe fatigue and some pain in her bones. But, she says, those side effects were a temporary inconvenience. A few days after the procedure, she was feeling normal.

Be the Match donors have limited contact with recipients so Kasten doesn’t know the girl’s outcome. But she remains hopeful that the transplant succeeded.

“I would be thrilled to know she at least had a chance at a childhood and a life before her,” she says.

Could you be someone’s one-in-a-million chance at life? Learn more about joining the Be The Match Registry (promo code: Huntsman).

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