Wilmot Cancer Center Nurse Donates Life-Saving Cells to Leukemia Patient

April 09, 2010

Ruben Casaverde, R.N., O.C.N., is a quiet, compassionate nurse, dedicated to providing life-saving care at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center. Next week, he’ll give even more. He will roll up his sleeves and donate stem cells to help a 37-year-old who needs a transplant to bring his leukemia into remission. 

Casaverde, 35, and father of three young children, understands the plight of the stem cell recipient. Following graduation from the University of Rochester School of Nursing, he worked with patients undergoing the procedure. The Wilmot Cancer Center’s Samuel E. Durand Blood and Marrow Transplant Program is the region’s only program for bone marrow and stem cell transplants.

“I know how important hope is when you’re facing a disease like cancer, and how hard it is to find a match for some people who have unusual ethnic backgrounds,” said Casaverde, a Peruvian native who moved to Rochester when he was 12 years old. “I didn’t think there’d be someone who matched my background but since there is, I’m willing to help and donate.”

Jane Liesveld, M.D., clinical director of Wilmot Cancer Center’s transplant program, is impressed with Casaverde’s commitment to patients. “This is a selfless act that will hopefully change or even save the recipient’s life. It is a wonderful extension of Ruben’s giving spirit and seemingly limitless energy when it comes to caring for others.”

People with a variety of cancers can benefit from two types of transplants: autologous transplants using a person’s own stem cells or marrow removed previously; or allogenic transplants using cells or marrow from a matched unrelated donor. 

The Wilmot Cancer Center team works closely with Be The Match registry, formerly known as the National Marrow Donor Registry, in collecting donations for transplants around the world. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, each year more than 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases and their best or only hope of a cure is a transplant from an unrelated donor or cord blood unit. 

At any time, there are 6,000 people awaiting a match among the registry donors. Because tissue types are inherited, the best match would be a relative. Failing that, the best match for patients will most likely be an unrelated donor with similar race or ethnicity.

The registry needs a healthy mix of donors to meet the growing need for transplants among our ethnically diverse population. Currently, nearly three-quarters of 8 million people in the registry are white. Just 9 percent are Hispanic, 8 percent are African American and 7 percent are Asian.

The Wilmot Cancer Center performs about 120 transplants and collects 200 donations of stem cells or bone marrow each year. The program is the second largest in the state, behind Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.    

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Leslie White
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