BMT patient reaches 20-year milestone

Aaron Klaassen

Aaron Klaassen has a knack for numbers.

As a senior fiscal analyst for the Kansas Legislative Research Department in Topeka, he makes it his business to keep track of the big numbers.

But it’s the numbers in his own life that hold the most meaning. As one of 13 children from a close-knit family, numbers have served him well – especially this year. Aaron turned 30 in April. As a survivor of two cancers, it’s a milestone he wasn’t sure he’d reach.

And last month, he celebrated the 20-year anniversary of his lifesaving stem cell transplant from the blood and marrow transplant program at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

In 1987, when Aaron was just 6, he visited the doctor, complaining he couldn’t catch his breath. A chest X-ray showed a large mass covering his ribs, which turned out to be a T-cell type non-Hodgkin lymphoblastic lymphoma. A family friend suggested The University of Kansas Health System for treatment.

Here, Aaron underwent rigorous chemotherapy and radiation treatments for two years. The treatment worked, but the chemo left him vulnerable to a second type of cancer. In 1991, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and would need a bone marrow transplant. Aaron’s odds at finding a perfect donor match were 4 in 10.

The transplant made the rest of life possible. It’s difficult to put in perspective just how different things would have been without all the help I received along the way. – Aaron Klassen

Fortunately, numbers were on his side again. The BMT team tested each of Aaron’s siblings and found his 18-month-old brother Samuel to be a near-perfect match. The transplant team harvested Samuel’s bone marrow in two stages to have enough to help Aaron. Soon after, he was on the road to recovery.

Since the procedure, Aaron has been in complete remission, with a new lease on life. "The transplant made the rest of life possible," he said. "It’s difficult to put in perspective just how different things would have been without all the help I received along the way."

This help included many levels of expertise and care within the BMT program. "Every member of our team is dedicated to providing our patients and their families the best care possible, and it shows," said BMT Director Joseph McGuirk, DO. "Aaron’s success story highlights our dedication to this mission."

Today, Aaron is grateful for the number of people in his corner.

"I don't have many specific memories from all my time in the hospital and in treatment," he said. "What I remember is a spirit of helpfulness – both from my family and all the doctors and nurses who took the right steps to make sure I could get through some of the hardest moments."

The University of Kansas Cancer Center is home to one of the largest BMT and acute leukemia programs in the nation. In fiscal year 2011, the BMT team performed 190 transplants, the most for any one year in the program’s history.

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