Northside Hospital - Local woman thanks blood donors during her leukemia treatment

Local woman thanks blood donors during her leukemia treatment

Posted on: May 29, 2019


April 11, 2016 was a normal work day for Marti Hand, until she began to feel ill. Concerned it might be the flu, she left early, went home and went straight to bed.

She called out sick the next morning too, and the next. With each passing day it seemed like her symptoms continued to worsen. Concerned, Marti visited a local urgent care center where her test results validated her cause for concern. She was promptly transferred to inpatient care at Northside Hospital Atlanta, where additional testing revealed chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML).

Following this diagnosis, Marti was transferred to Northside’s Blood & Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit for treatment. The CMML quickly progressed to acute myeloid leukemia (AML), extending Marti’s stay at Northside Hospital to a totality of two months.

Under the supervision and care of Dr. H. Kent Holland, Marti started chemotherapy and the process of finding a stem cell donor. While searching for a donor, Marti continued regular blood transfusions supplied by generous donors from the Atlanta Blood Services (ABS).

Within a month after diagnosis, and several blood transfusions later, the stars began to align. Because the leukemia was detected early, chemotherapy was highly effective, and familial tests for a stem cell donor revealed her brother to be a 100 percent match. Doctors scheduled her transplant for June 28.

I believe the universe was on my side because everything fell into place,” she said. “The acute leukemia was caught early, and I happened to live in the neighborhood of the best blood and marrow transplant physician group in the U.S.” Northside’s BMT Program has achieved survival rates that exceed the U.S. survival outcomes for the last ten years, ranking as one of the top two programs in the nation.

During her recovery process, Marti was diagnosed with Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD), a condition that might occur following a transplant in which donated bone marrow or blood stem cells view the recipient’s body as foreign, and attack the body. Undeterred, Marti is close to completing her over 2.5 years of immunosuppressive therapy and notes that she feels stronger with each passing day.

Being ill helped me become stronger emotionally and know what I need to live a meaningful life,” she said, sharing much of what she’s learned on her personal blog. “I never realized how hard it would be to manage a chronic condition on a daily basis. It requires one to be a warrior, and you find strengths you never thought you had.”

Marti’s health journey inspired several of her co-workers and siblings to donate blood and plasma. With her many years spent working as a health care administrator and critical care nurse, Marti always knew that “blood provided life-saving treatment,” but it was never made clearer than when she herself was the recipient.

Marti continues to reflect on the generosity of the Blood & Marrow Transplant doctors and staff, family members and anonymous blood donors from ABS, all who made her recovery possible.

I had a nurse technician that helped me walk outside just to feel the breeze [while in treatment at Northside]. It’s the little things that really touch you and make you heal.”

Knowing the “little things” can make all the difference, Marti encourages others to donate blood. “Without the generosity of blood product donors, I may not be alive today to tell my story,” she said. “Know that when you donate your blood, it is given to anyone needing life-saving treatment, [means] a couple of hours of your time can save someone’s life… like mine.”

*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.

Filed under: Cancer, Patient Stories,


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