After receiving two bone marrow transplants and 89 blood transfusions, nine-year-old Sammy’s health is on the mend. Over the last year, Sammy spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital—including Christmas Eve. Now that his health is improving, Sammy is looking forward to spending this Christmas at home with his family.
Sammy’s health problems began in July 2017, when a terrible virus attacked his liver. While Sammy initially recovered from the virus, he later began to experience new symptoms, including bruising and bloody noses. Then, in October 2017, Sammy began to show signs of petechiae, which are tiny purple spots all over the skin caused by blood vessels breaking open. Sammy’s mom, Kelsey, an RN at Mayo Clinic, knew that Sammy needed to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.
While at the ER, Sammy’s doctors requested blood work. They discovered Sammy’s platelet count was at 6,000, which is extremely low (150,000 to 450,000 is the normal range). To replenish his platelet count, Sammy received his first blood transfusion.
The next day, a hematology doctor diagnosed Sammy with aplastic anemia. The doctor explained that Sammy’s body fought so hard against the virus that his body ended up attacking his own bone marrow, which is responsible for making all the blood cells in the body. At that point, Sammy’s bone marrow was not working and his body was not making any blood cells.
The only cure for aplastic anemia is a bone marrow transplant. In order for a bone marrow transplant to be successful, the donor’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers must closely match the patient’s HLA markers. Matching HLA markers is very complex, but the closer the donor matches to the patient the less chance there will be complications with the tranplant.
Unfortunately, Sammy’s medical team was unable to find an exact bone marrow donor match for him, including among his family members. According to Be The Match, about 70% of patients who need a bone marrow transplant don’t have a close match in their family. Therefore, the medical team began Sammy’s treatment with a less invasive and risky option—immunosuppression therapy. When the immunosuppression therapy did not work, the doctors moved forward with the next best option. The doctors suggested a bone marrow transplant from the closest HLA-matched family member, which happened to be Sammy’s mom, Kelsey. Kelsey agreed to be a donor for her son, saying, “I think anyone would do anything for their kids.”
Sammy received two bone marrow transplants from his mom, and the second transplant on June 20, 2018, was successful. Since then, Sammy has been doing well. Sammy’s blood count continues to go up on its own and is now in the normal range. In addition, Sammy is beginning to act like himself again. With more energy now, he is able to enjoy many of the active things he once loved doing, like playing catch with his dad.
Before Sammy’s successful second bone marrow transplant, Sammy needed numerous blood transfusions just to function and survive during his treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Sammy received platelet transfusions every three to four days during the worst of it, and he received red blood cell transfusions every two weeks. Throughout the entire span of Sammy’s medical care, he received 89 blood transfusions.
Because of generous blood donors, Sammy is able to celebrate another holiday. Last year at Christmas time, Sammy was fighting for his life, having to go in for a blood transfusion the day before and the day after Christmas. This year, Sammy is healthy, grateful, and excited to bake cookies and open presents. Sammy’s mom, Kelsey, genuinely expressed thanks for “just knowing that he can stay home and enjoy the holidays as a family, and not have to worry about feeling tired or getting another bloody nose. Just the little things we take for granted with our bodies, like our bodies’ ability to make blood. I don’t think we ever will anymore. We are just thankful from the bottom of our hearts that we still have Sammy because of the time people took to donate blood.”
To read more stories like this, visit the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Program's Blog Page.