Cincinati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his 5-yr.-old daughter Leah have won the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award for Leah’s brave battle with cancer. The award is named after the legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano who inspired many with his emotional speech at the 1993 ESPY awards while fighting his own cancer battle. That speech included his now famous words: “Don’t Give Up . . . Don’t Ever Give Up!”®.
Celebrity Diagnosis readers know that Leah Still was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma in June 2014. Doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of survival. After 4 rounds of chemotherapy to shrink her tumors, Leah underwent successful surgery at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia to remove a tumor from her abdomen. She was declared to be in remission in March.
But Leah’s fight was not over quite yet. To ensure the cancer wouldn’t come back, Leah would undergo a stem cell transplant in May 2015. During the lengthy hospital stay, high doses of chemotherapy would essentially wipe out her immune system. Then doctors would replace those diseased cells with healthy new immune cells.
Leah had one serious complication during stem cell transplant, a potentially fatal inflammation of the blood vessels in the liver called veno-occlusive disease (VOD). Inflammation leads to swelling of blood vessels, blocking the flow of blood in the liver. The liver isn’t able to properly perform one of its important functions- removing toxins, drugs, or other waste products from the blood.
Leah recovered from VOD and was able to go home on June 22.
At Tuesday night’s televised ESPY Awards event, Devon Still was introduced to the audience by their friend LeBron James. Unfortunately, Leah was unable to attend the event live, but did make “an appearance” on the big screen to thank everybody. Leah is still unable to be around crowds of people because her immune system is not yet working fully.
Bone marrow is the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones. It contains immature cells known as hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells divide to form more blood-forming stem cells, or they mature into one of three types of blood cells:
Most hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow, but some cells, called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs), are found in the bloodstream. Blood in the umbilical cord also contains hematopoietic stem cells. Cells from any of these sources can be used in transplants.
A stem cell transplant is a procedure that restores stem cells that have been destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. There are three types of transplants:
A stem cell transplant may be used to treat cancer patients so that it is possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. It is most frequently used in the treatment of leukemia and lymphoma, but is also used in patients with neuroblastoma and multiple myeloma.
A stem cell donor may be given a medication for 4 or 5 days before the procedure to increase the number of stem cells released into the bloodstream.
In apheresis, donor blood is removed through a large vein. The blood goes through a special machine that is able to remove the stem cells. The blood is then returned to the donor and the collected cells are stored. The procedure typically takes 4 to 6 hours. The stem cells are then frozen until they are given to the recipient.
The patient who is to undergo stem cell transplant will receive high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy until the bone marrow is completely empty of blood and stem cells.
To prevent problems, the donor’s stem cells should match yours as closely as possible. Donors and recipients are matched through a blood test called HLA tissue typing.
After entering the bloodstream, the stem cells travel to the bone marrow, where they begin to produce new white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in a process known as “engraftment.” Engraftment usually occurs within about 2 to 4 weeks after transplantation. Doctors monitor it by checking blood counts on a frequent basis.
Complete recovery of immune function takes much longer, however—up to several months for autologous transplant recipients and 1 to 2 years for patients receiving allogeneic or syngeneic transplants. Doctors evaluate the results of various blood tests to confirm that new blood cells are being produced and that the cancer has not returned. Bone marrow aspiration (the removal of a small sample of bone marrow through a needle for examination under a microscope) can also help doctors determine how well the new marrow is working.
The major risk of both treatments is an increased susceptibility to infection and bleeding as a result of the high-dose cancer treatment. Doctors may give the patient antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. They may also give the patient transfusions of platelets to prevent bleeding and red blood cells to treat anemia. Patients who undergo stem cell transplant may experience short-term side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, mouth sores, hair loss, and skin reactions.
Other, potentially serious, problems after stem cell transplant include:
Source: National Cancer Institute