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Emily Bennett

Young patient receives program's first cord blood transplant

Emily Bennett was flipping through magazines when her mother called and told her to go the emergency room.

Just the day before, 21-year-old Emily had visited her family doctor for a checkup. She'd been feeling tired for a few months. At first she thought it was the normal wear and tear of staying up too late and working too hard.

"But my heart was racing all the time from just doing the smallest things, like getting out of bed and walking across the room," she said.

The Emergency Department staff discovered her hemoglobin was less than 4. The normal range falls between 12 and 15. They admitted her and started blood transfusions. Soon after, Emily started seeing specialists in our Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) program at The Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Care Pavilion, and discovered she had myelofibrosis and myelodysplastic syndrome.

"Here the doctors make you feel like you're number one, which in my case I really was."

-Emily Bennett, right, with her mother, Karen Chapman

"I was 21 and I didn't think anything would happen to me," she said. "I certainly didn't think I would have cancer."

Myelofibrosis is a form of blood cancer that if left untreated, Emily's doctors told her, could lead to leukemia. They posted her case in the bone marrow registry and found three perfect matches. But that good news quickly turned bad as each candidate was disqualified.

Her doctors decided on another course of treatment. In March 2008, she started chemotherapy and radiation and on March 31, Emily became the expanded BMT program's first umbilical cord stem cell transplant recipient.

Her progress has been remarkable. Just more than a month after her transplant, the donor bone marrow engrafted successfully, there have been no signs of graft-versus-host disease, and her fifth bone marrow biopsy revealed the transplanted marrow is growing.

"I have the best doctor and the best team in the country. I feel like I really lucked out big time when I got sent to The University of Kansas Hospital," said Emily, who cites her team's combination of expertise and compassion as the critical difference in her care and her attitude.

"Everyday I feel a little bit better. I'm just so happy and grateful for every day I have."