by Zoila Brown
Amani, a 19-year-old Wayne County teenager who had no previous health issues, started getting stomach aches that made her want to throw up. After having an upper respiratory infection, she noticed additional symptoms that warranted a trip to the hospital.
“My chest was hurting and my heart was beating fast. I also kept vomiting from the stomach pains because that was the only thing that provided some relief,” she says.
It all started in July of 2015.
Testing at a local hospital revealed disturbing news.
A CT scan showed that Amani had a mass that covered two thirds of her belly. A biopsy on her 19th birthday confirmed that the mass was malignant and fluid was developing around her heart.
“I received the news that I had Burkitt lymphoma. When I found out I would need to undergo chemotherapy and be sick and nauseated it was a very disturbing moment” Amani says.
Burkitt lymphoma is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that can rapidly become fatal if left untreated. Although the tumor shrunk in her belly initially, her end of therapy scans showed the disease was progressing. This course indicated a very high-risk disease form.
Amani was then referred to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan for evaluation for a bone marrow transplant, a potentially life-saving treatment for people with leukemia, lymphoma and many other diseases.
For a patient’s body to accept a donor’s healthy cells, the donor’s tissue type needs to match the patient’s type as closely as possible. Patients who do not have a suitably matched donor in their family may search for an unrelated bone marrow donor.
Amani did not have a fully matched donor through her family or the national marrow donor registry. Her younger brother was found to be a 50% match.
Due to the high-risk nature of Amani’s condition, the bone marrow transplant team at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan determined a haploidentical transplant would be the best option for Amani.
A haploidentical HSCT (HiD) is when the donor is a half human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue match. HLA molecules are proteins — or markers — found on most cells in the body. Haploidentical HSCT provides an option for patients like Amani who have no other suitable donors.
Sureyya Savasan, M.D., director, Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, met with Amani and her family and decided to move forward with a haploidentical transplant.
Amani became the first patient at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan DMC to receive a haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), a procedure, also known as a half-match bone marrow transplant (BMT).
The transplant procedure for Amani took place in February of 2016 and Amani was thankful that her brother was able to be a suitable donor. She continues to be disease-free.
“I am appreciative of not only my brother, but the doctors and nurses who helped me. It has been a long hard process and you just have to hold your head high and continue. I’m happy to be doing really well,” she says.
Amani hopes to use her experience to help others in the future. Her goal is to be a nurse and possibly work with kids.
“We are encouraged by Amani’s progress and are excited to help other patients like Amani with this transplant approach in the future,” says Dr. Savasan.
For further information on hematology and oncology treatments visit http://www.childrensdmc.org/cancercenter.
– Zoila Brown is a Detroit area freelance writer.