Campus Closeup: Laura Reissner
It’s quite possible that Laura Reissner (Education) saved a stranger’s life over the holiday break. She received a call from the National Marrow Donor Program a week before finals, indicating she was the best match for a 66-year-old male leukemia patient.
“It was an honor and privilege to be able to do this for him because it was a last resort,” she said. “I would hope that someone in a position to help a relative of mine would do the same thing.”
But Reissner did not have to undergo traditional surgery to withdraw liquid marrow from her pelvic bones. The recipient’s doctors requested that she make a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation instead. In use for about a decade, it is an increasingly popular option because of its relatively fast recovery time. During the pheresis procedure, whole blood is collected from one arm and goes into a machine that separates out the cells used for transplantation. The red blood cells and remaining components are returned through the other arm.
“For five days leading up to the collection I had to get daily injections of the drug Neupogen at Marquette General,” Reissner said. “It’s frequently given to people who have cancer to stimulate the production of white blood cells. Then they covered my expenses to go to Grand Rapids for a physical, some blood work and to meet with the staff that ultimately did the procedure. When you see that bag of light pink stuff, it’s just amazing to think of what they can do with it medically in terms of a potential life-saving treatment.”
Reissner will be notified soon – on the 30th day after the transplant – how the patient is doing and whether the white blood cells engrafted. There have been touching media accounts of arranged meetings in which recipients personally thank donors for their generosity and donors get to associate a face with the person they’ve granted a second chance. That’s not likely to happen in Reissner’s case.
“It was an international donation and his country requires that it remain anonymous. But that’s irrelevant to me. I sent him a card, through the program, wishing him well and telling him that I hope he has many memorable times ahead. He may or may not write back, but that’s not why I did it.”
She also didn’t do it for publicity, though word spread of her generous gift. When asked for an interview about her experience, Reissner agreed in the hope that it would encourage others to join the list of prospective donors. She and colleague Cindy Robare (Professional Studies) signed up three years ago during a donor drive on campus. “We promised each other that if one of us got called, the other would be there for her. Cindy came with me to Grand Rapids and she was perfect—knowing when I needed support and when I needed space.
“I never thought I would be a match because the odds aren’t that great. But it was well worth putting up with a couple of weeks of feeling somewhat uncomfortable in order to give hope to a family. I hope others will consider joining the national registry. It’s easy to do and it can make a huge difference for someone.”
For more information on the National Marrow Donor Program, visit NMDP.