by KIM HILSENBECK
2012 was a rough year for Kyle resident Mark Moreno, 24, and his family. So far, 2013 is looking up.
After a diagnosis last April of Leukemia, Mark’s family held a bone marrow drive at Dahlstrom Middle School to find a match. Nearly 100 people turned up to see if their marrow was compatible with Mark’s.
Theresa Moreno, Mark’s mother, said while they were hopeful with one of the potential donors, that match did not pan out. However, she said Mark received a blood cord transplant in early December 2012.
Mark, a 2006 Hays High graduate and member of the Texas State Bobcat band, went to the dentist in April 2012 with a toothache. Little did he know his illness was Leukemia, and that he would need a compatible marrow match.
But Mark was lucky with the blood cord transplant. Blood cord is the umbilical cord that doctors cut off newborns after they are delivered. Mothers can make the choice to save them for their children, donate them or discard them.
“I really appreciate that a woman donated her blood cord,” Theresa said.
But the transplant was not without problems, she said. Mark’s body showed signs of rejection.
“They call it graft vs. host disease,” Theresa said.
Doctors call it GVHD.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, GVHD develops when the donor’s immune cells mistakenly attack the patient’s normal cells. The disease can be mild, moderate or severe. It can also be life threatening.
“He spent the holidays in the hospital,” she said. “Mark went into the Intensive Care Unit right after the transplant.”
She said he developed flu-like respiratory issues in his lungs along with a high heart rate, a rash, stomach cramps and other symptoms.
Theresa said the rest of her family had come back to Kyle while she stayed with Mark at M.D. Anderson in Houston. The family rented an apartment while Mark is in the hospital.
“I was alone and scared when he went into ICU, but I didn’t want to let him know,” she said. “I’m trying to stay positive.”
Mark is now out of ICU and in good spirits, Theresa said.
“He doesn’t want to disappoint me,” she said.
But Mark still needs occupational and physical therapy because he is so weak from the transplant ordeal and subsequent GVHD.
“He was so weak and bed-ridden. He had no appetite,” she said. “And the medication makes him nauseous.”
Theresa said during the holidays, it was hard for her to visit Mark because she got sick and couldn’t compromise his immune system with her germs.
She said spending the time with Mark now, even under these circumstances, has been good for them. She said when he was young, she worked and didn’t get to see him as much.
“Now, we’re catching up on Mom and Mark time,” she said.
They paint, do clay sculpting, and play games such as Battleship and cards – all things that help improve his dexterity and motor skills.
Overall, she said he is showing daily improvement.
Theresa said the nurses and doctors at MD Anderson make her and Mark’s time there easier.
“The staff is wonderful,” she said. “They show such compassion.”
Theresa said she is hopeful that she and Mark will be able to leave the hospital soon and stay in the apartment for a few months.
“We hope to be back in Kyle by mid-spring,” she said.
Blood cord is the umbilical cord that doctors cut off newborns after they are delivered. Mothers can make the choice to save them for their children, donate them or discard them.
Facts about blood cord transplants
• The U.S. Congress passed the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 and the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010. These acts include support for umbilical cord blood transplantation and research.
• Cord blood is an investigational product, not licensed by FDA; it has been used (as an alternative to bone marrow) as a source of hematopoietic stem cells for several years.
• More than 15,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide through 2009. In the United States, more than one half of all stem cell transplants from unrelated donors in children now use cord blood.
• Studies suggest that cord blood may not need to match as closely as is required for a marrow donor. Umbilical cord blood may be especially promising for patients who…
• Have difficulty finding a matched marrow donor,
• Are from diverse heritages who often have an uncommon tissue type,
• Have a life-threatening genetic disorder, or
• Need a transplant quickly.