18th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest People
The Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant

In March, 2018, my grandmother Ruth was diagnosed with AML-MRC, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, with myelodysplastic related changes. It originated as a disease called Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or MDS. She was 70 years old at the time. On December 3rd of 2019, she underwent a life-saving bone marrow stem cell transplant. On a cellular level, she is a new human. We are eternally grateful to her anonymous donor, one of only a few on earth who was a perfect genetic match. This transplant was overwhelming and frightening for both her and our family; there was a high risk of her experiencing GvH, or Graft versus Host, a reaction to the new stem cells which might have had dangerous, grueling side effects, and which may have ended her life. The decision of whether or not to go through with the transplant, considering the possible repercussions, was daunting. Ultimately, she chose the new stem cells, as it was her only real chance at lengthening her life. She was lucky, and never experienced GvH. The months following, however, were not easy. Exhausted and sick, she needed to have my mother go live with her to care for her daily until she recovered. It took a long time for her to be able to live on her own, but she is now living alone and recovering. The nurses ushered in a small bag of bright red liquid with a certain sense of tense urgency. The bag of donated stem cells had been transported on a plane from Europe by a volunteer, and arrived late in the evening. It was hypnotizing to watch as the tiny cells floated slowly through the cord.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 12.2020
Date Uploaded: 09.2020
Photo Location: Gilbert, Arizona, United States of America
Camera: Canon EOS REBEL T5
Copyright: © Chloe Koebel