From OHC

February 26, 2024

When Kayla Walsh joined the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) in 2009 during her sophomore year at college, she had no idea the impact those short minutes would have on someone she never met.  Studying to be a high school biology teacher at Indiana University, Kayla was introduced to NMDP and Be The Match (BTM) at a college charity event where she was volunteering. BTM provides patients access to more than 41 million donors around the world who are ready to be a life-saving marrow or blood stem cell donor.  After speaking with the representatives, a simple mouth swab was obtained and she joined the registry, stating, “By doing this small thing, I could be saving a life. Why wouldn’t I do this? I didn’t even give it a second thought, of course I’d sign up.  After that day I honestly didn’t think about it,” until she received a call in May 2021 to help OHC patient Brad Miller.

Brad was diagnosed with B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in January 2021.  His doctor referred him to the blood and marrow transplant experts at OHC to be treated.  OHC determined Brad would need a stem cell transplant, and in collaboration with The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health Cincinnati Cancer and Cellular Therapy Center (CCCTC) BTM was contacted.  Three matches were found, but only one was in the United States.  The luck of finding a match in the US meant Brad would be treated quickly.

BTM called Kayla and left her a voicemail.  She thankfully called back and was told she was a potential match for a patient in Cincinnati.  She agreed to do the additional testing required to ensure she was the best candidate as Brad’s donor.  Meeting all requirements, and being a perfect match, Kayla was scheduled for her apheresis stem cell donation in July 2021 and after two days in the hospital, her cells were sent to Cincinnati.  Brad’s transplant was performed on July 22, 2021, and was deemed a success.

While Brad’s recovery was slow, he knew he’d want to meet his donor one day and thank her for saving his life.  NMDP requires a one-year waiting period before donors and recipients can share their information.  The process requires both the donor and recipient to share their contact information and agree to be contacted by the other party.  Luckily, Brad and Kayla had both agreed.  What followed was a journey of emails and invitations to meet in person.

Their first meeting was on November 4, 2023, Brad’s birthday.  He traveled north to meet Kayla and her husband to have dinner with them.  Brad invited Kayla to Cincinnati in December 2023 so that he could introduce her to his other life-saving team who treated him at OHC and CCCTC. “I wanted her to meet those people who meant so much to me for so long.  The nurses and doctors who helped me while I was recovering and going through my battles.  It means a lot to me that she’s here,” adds Brad.

Brad and Kayla visited the OHC Kenwood office, where he introduced her to OHC hematologist and medical oncologist Ameet Patel, MD, MMPH and the nurses who spent many days with him during this treatment, including Diane Shapiro, RN, BMTCN, transplant coordinator for CCCTC.  One introduction Brad wanted to make was to OHC nurse navigator, Mary Robinett. “She helped me a lot and answered many questions, she was great.”  Mary commented on how wonderful it was to meet Kayla, saying, “It means so much to the nurses here to meet Kayla, and other donors, who gave their time so willingly and saved lives.  We love to see success stories.  It makes everything worth it.”

When asked why Brad reached out to Kayla, his intentions were clear.  “I had to say thank you.  After I found out that Kayla was willing to share her information, I had to send an email.  It was a long email, but I needed to thank someone for saving my life, literally.  She didn’t have to do what she did.”

While Kayla remains incredibly humble, she knows the impact her story has on others.  This year when school started, Kayla shared that she donated her stem cells through an icebreaker game with her students.  “They thought it was cool and asked more questions.  I can apply my personal experience to the lessons in cells and I think that helps the kids understand more,” explains Kayla.

Every 3 to 4 minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Every year, over 18,000 men, women, and children in the United States are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that potentially could be treated by a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Seventy percent of patients who need a transplant do not have a fully matched donor in their family. To assist in the recruitment of donors, BTM was founded in 1987.  Since then, BTM has facilitated more than 120,000 blood stem cell transplants, giving patients hope across the world and here in Cincinnati.

OHC nurse navigator, Mary Robinett, OHC patient Brad Miller, and stem cell donor Kayla Walsh.

“The work Be The Match provides is invaluable to the cancer community.  Without their diligence and dedication to finding matches, our patients’ treatment would be delayed or even impossible. The live-saving donors in the registry are truly heroes” explains Dr. Patel.

To join the registry, visit bethematch.org and request a kit.  Any adult aged 18-40 can join the registry.  OHC is very thankful to the NMDP and their dedication to saving the lives of all blood cancer patients.  Learn more about the OHC blood and marrow transplant program at ohcare.com.

Top photo: OHC patient Brad Miller, Kayla Walsh.  Kayla donated her stem cells to Brad through Be The Match.  

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