Amidst the joyful congratulations marked by balloons and glittery tiaras, medical staff and administrators gathered on 7 Monti at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) to celebrate a milestone achievement—the 100th stem cell transplant completed in 2019 by clinicians of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute’s Don Monti Adult Stem Cell Transplant Program.
Stem cell transplantation began at NSUH in 1987; the program has grown into a 10-bed inpatient unit that, to date, has met the needs of more than 2,500 patients, according to Ruthee Lu-Bayer, MD, chief of the Don Monti Bone Marrow Transplantation Unit.
“This is a monumental milestone for us,” Bayer told doctors, nurses, administrators and other staff who gathered together for the celebration. “We’re here today to celebrate the combined efforts of every member of our staff who made this moment happen. And we’re here to celebrate our patients. I always say that getting through their diagnosis is half the battle. When our patients arrive for transplant, I ask them to think of their transplant date as their second birthday, a time when they can begin to live their lives again.”
Celebrating the occasion from the safe isolation of her room, along with Bayer and leadership of the Cancer Institute was Teresa O’Halloran, affectionately referred to as “No. 100” on the unit.
O’Halloran, 62, of East Islip, was diagnosed on Aug. 12 with adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell).
“I just wasn’t feeling myself,” O’Halloran said. “I was just tired and out of sorts. I was in pain…I knew something was wrong.”
A very active woman eager to get back to her life, O’Halloran learned shortly after her diagnosis that a bone marrow transplant would be key to her recovery. She was admitted to NSUH on December 28. Then she was given several days of chemotherapy to help prepare her body to accept the cells from her donor. She received the infusion of the cells a couple of days later. She credits her faith and her positive outlook on life for an unusually rapid recovery.
“I’ve always looked at the glass as half full,” O’Halloran said. “All I can say is that I’m very grateful to Dr. Bayer and the entire staff here in the transplant program. I wish everyone could understand how important it is to be tested as a possible match—it’s a simple cheek swab and you could wind up saving someone’s life.”
She joked that “bethematch,” an international transplant registry, is not a dating website.
As she doled out slices of a huge cake bearing the transplant program, Cancer Institute, and Northwell logos, Bayer summed up the spirit of the occasion: “Today, we celebrate the fact that magic happens here every day.”
—Submitted by Northwell Health