Event

On Cancer: Robin Roberts Celebrates with Fellow Stem Cell Transplant Recipients

By Jim Stallard, MA, Writer/Editor  |  Thursday, October 17, 2013

Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts joined more than 200 fellow stem cell transplant recipients along with their families and friends last night at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 18th annual Stem Cell Transplant Survivors Celebration. The event, which drew more than 550 guests, allowed transplant patients to meet one another and reunite with doctors, nurses, and other staff, and to share memories about how the procedure restored their health and changed their lives.

“We meet to celebrate the success you’ve had in this journey and to acknowledge all the people who helped you to have that success,” Sergio A. Giralt, Chief of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Service, told those gathered. “We also meet to thank you, because all of you here don’t know how invigorating it is to all the staff at Memorial to see you. It really is heartwarming to see that we were able to be part of the reconstruction of your lives.”

Ms. Roberts received a stem cell transplant at Memorial Sloan Kettering in the fall of 2012 for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease that arises in the bone marrow due to a disorder of hematopoietic stem cells, the immature cells from which all blood cells develop. She was hospitalized for several weeks and was closely monitored and cared for as an outpatient by a team of doctors, nurses, and staff under the direction of Dr. Giralt.

A transplant patient and a caregiver also addressed the celebrants, recounting the distressing onset of illness and praising the care received at Memorial Sloan Kettering during treatment and recovery.

Jennifer Jones Austin recalled that soon after being diagnosed with acute leukemia four years ago, her health deteriorated to the point where she was given a 1 percent chance of survival by physicians at another institution. After pulling through a coma, she could not find a suitable stem cell donor but was able to receive a cord blood transplant under the care of Juliet Barker, who heads the Cord Blood Transplantation Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

“When I was walking the halls rebuilding my strength, I noticed photos of prior stem cell celebrations on the walls,” Ms. Austin said. “Every time I rounded the corner and came upon those photos, I thought to myself, ‘One day I’m going to be there.’ I would not be here — or as strong physically, emotionally, and mentally — were it not for the transplant team. I owe you so much.”

Judy Swanson said that when her husband, Bill Cavell, was diagnosed with MDS, she had no doubt where to go for treatment — she herself had been a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering approximately 20 years ago. In addition, her daughter-in-law, Lianne Cavell, was at the time doing her fellowship in gastroenterology at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Lianne suggested that Bill and Judy meet with hematologist Hugo R. Castro-Malaspina.

“We never questioned anything, never got a second opinion, we were just ready to go,” Ms. Swanson said. “I want to thank Dr. Castro-Malaspina, who is truly our family hero, and all the doctors — and their families — for all the personal time in their lives they have given up for this cause because they were here helping all of us.”

Marcel R. M. van den Brink, head of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Division of Hematologic Oncology, praised the work of Dr. Giralt in leading the Memorial Sloan Kettering’s stem cell program. In addition, he remarked that he recently read an article stating that eight in ten Americans believe that angels are real — and that five in ten believe they have their own guardian angel. “I am here to tell you that it’s true,” he says. “I know them, I’ve seen them, I work with them, and they are called transplant nurses. I can tell you that we have very strict screening to hire only angels for our program.”

Richard J. O’Reilly, Chief of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Service, noted that several patients in attendance had been transplanted more than 30 years ago and were still returning to the annual event. “This is a wonderful place, but it’s been made wonderful by the extraordinary patients who come here,” he said. “You have constantly been an inspiration to us to develop new approaches, urging us on to get better just by saying it’s not quite as good as it needs to be.”

To learn more about stem cell transplantation, read a Q&A with experts on our Adult Bone Marrow Transplantation Service about the procedure, the recovery process, and becoming a donor.

Comments

It was a nice gathering last night. Thank you MSKCC for giving me back my life

This really makes my heart happy. My dearest friend died of MDS 5 years ago after her bone marrow transplant failed. It is so wonderful to see that so many other people were able to have successful transplants.

I received a stem cell transplant at MSKCC, February 1998. The staff was amazing then and remains so today. I am forever greatful.

I am 206 days post transplant. Thanks to Dr. Giralt and my nurse-angels I will be at the next celebration. I would not consider any place else for this procedure if I were starting the process again. I have been treated wonderfully by every staff member I have been in touch with from secretaries to nurses to my personal hero, Dr. Giralt.

I am 14 months post-transplant and remain forever grateful to the nurses, physicians and all employees at MSKCC. It is a remarkable research hospital with the very best staff. I truly look forward to seeing Dr. Koehne for my visits, who has been a calming, knowledgeable and friendly presence throughout this experience. I give thanks each day for him and for my donor.

I am sorry that I missed the event but will not miss it next year as that will be my 35th anniversary! I had a bone-marrow transplant back in 1979 for Aplastic Anemia under Dr. Richard O'Reilly. I am living proof that there is hope when situations seem hopeless. Best wishes and good health to all bone-marrow transplant recipients.

Tracey, we're glad to hear that you're doing well. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

I had my bone marrow transplant 2-½ years ago. My heart was so happy during the survivors celebration! What a journey everyone there has travelled! I am proud and honored to be one of MSKCC's BMT recipients

I had an autologous stem-cell transplant in 1999 and have enjoyed this soirée in previous years. I suppose it's saying something that I just forgot about it this year!

My daughter Adina did not make it through her Tranplant after 11 months in remission. Transplant Pediatrics and it's Team was truly sincere in the attempt to continue saving her Life. ADINA was a warrior !
Thank you MSKCC nurses and Dr.'s - it was the most comforting battle in 4 years to be at a Hospital that truly understood Pediatrics and their Families Betteling this war.

I am a MSKCC Stem Cell Transplant Survivor -- wish I would have been invited. Looks great though -- congratulations everyone!

Matthew, we are sending a private message about this to the email address that you provided.

I am 16 months post transplant at MSKCC and in remission. Thank you to Dr. Moskowits and Nurse Practitioner Susan McCall. They are dedicated to their cause. Never hesitate to answer my concerns or questions no matter how small.
I always brag about the transplant nurse's and the staff that were there for me. They are the most dedicated and caring people. Morning, noon, or night they always had a smile, kind word and helped me thru a tough time. I'm sorry didn't know about the celebration. I will try to make the next one.
God bless all the survivors.

Please let me know if the Stem cell Transplant can be done for curing Cerebral Palsy. I work in MSKCC and have a daughter you was affected during birth time with loss of oxygen. She is walking with a gait and does not speak. Any Help from MSKCC is life turning event for us. Please help.

Surya, stem cell transplant is not currently a standard treatment for cerebral palsy. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, you might want to go to http://ucp.org/resources/from-the-medical-director-s-desk/stem-cell-therapy/. Thank you for your comment.

Dear Friends,
I was diagnosed with MDS last month by my hematologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch near Houston and have been inspired by Robin Roberts story and that of others who have been treated at your institution. As an otherwise healthy 6' 170 lb. male 67 year old on Medicare, I am curious as to whether I would be a candidate for a stem cell transplant. Also curious as to how the system for finding a donor works.
Kind Regards - Carey

Carey, to find out about possible stem cell transplantation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, you can call 877-836-ABMT (2268). Mon–Fri, 8:00 AM–6:00 PM, ET
Thank you for your comment.

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