Two years ago, Diamond June needed a bone marrow transplant to treat her leukemia, but no matching donor could be found. Even though she comes from a big family, none of her relatives was the near-perfect match she needed for the procedure.
At the time, Diamond was 21 and anxious to get back to work as a certified nursing assistant, to be out with her family and friends.
Her oncology team, led by pediatric oncologist and transplant specialist Jeff Andolina, M.D., found another solution. They saw that Diamond had a brother and sister who were half matches, opening the possibility of a haploidentical transplant. In this type of transplant, the donor is typically a first-degree relative — a parent, child or sibling — who is a 50 percent match to the recipient.
They decided to approach Diamond’s younger sister Destiny, who was 15 at the time.
Destiny didn’t think twice: “I would do anything for my sister,” she says.
With that, Diamond became the first patient at Wilmot to have a haploidentical transplant. The procedure is the same as a conventional transplant — transferring healthy, blood-forming cells from the donor to the recipient — but it requires additional chemotherapy to help forestall graft vs. host disease (GVHD), a potential side effect in which the donated cells attack the body.
“I was nervous when they did the procedure, but I felt good about it,” says Destiny, who watched as they took stem cells from her body and brought them to her sister. “I would do it again.”
“I’m thankful for that,” Diamond says. “She risked herself for me. She was a blessing.”
Throughout her recovery from the transplant, Diamond had the support of her family, who helped her through long stays at the hospital and through down days. Her older sister Shalonda and her friend Davina Vargas were especially close with her, taking her to appointments and helping with meals and laundry.
Shalonda is proud of her sisters. “Destiny is our hero because she saved Diamond for us,” she says.
Although Diamond has struggled with GVHD, she is doing well and is now back at work.
She wants others facing bone marrow transplant to have hope.
“Stay strong and fight,” she says. “It might be a long journey, but it’s only temporary.”