Long hospital stays are no longer the only option for some stem cell transplant patients. The first UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center patient to undergo an outpatient transplant is back at home and in remission.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of such a success,” said Benicia resident Dara Karl, the first multiple myeloma patient to undergo a stem cell transplant at UC Davis Health without being hospitalized during the procedure. .
Many blood cancers are resistant to standard doses of chemotherapy. Studies have shown that high doses of chemotherapy can eradicate many if not all cancer cells that are resistant to standard doses of chemotherapy. However, high doses will also damage the bone marrow and the stem cells contained within it. Stem cell transplant, also known as bone marrow transplant, is a procedure in which a patient receives their own archived stem cells to recover from the effects of high doses of chemotherapy.
Which patients are good candidates for an outpatient stem cell transplant? They must receive an autologous stem cell transplant and meet the following criteria:
• Be in relatively good health.
• Live within an hour’s drive of the UC Davis Medical Center or stay at a nearby hotel.
• Provide a responsible family member or friend who can serve as a support system for the patient 24/7 for at least two weeks.
• Agree to follow infection prevention guidelines (ie wear a mask and adhere to a strict medication and dietary regimen).
• Do not leave pets or young children in the house during the treatment process.
After the stem cells are infused into a patient’s bloodstream, they travel to the bone marrow and begin the process of forming new, healthy blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
A month after her stem cell transplant, Dara was told by her oncologist that her cancer was in deep remission. In fact, there was no sign of the cancer at all.
Karl said she doesn’t feel like a pioneer and says she just did, “what my doctors told me to do.” The widow and mother of two grown daughters — one Oklahoma professor and the other severely disabled with cerebral palsy at home — Karl didn’t want to endure a typical three-week hospital stay for the transplant procedure. Her sister, Deb Deans, stood by her side as the two relaxed, procedurally, in the comfort of the Marriott Hotel on the UC Davis Health campus.
“Delicious meals were brought to us by the hospital staff and we were able to have some of our own diet-compliant snacks thanks to the room with a kitchenette,” said Karl. “It was definitely a lot better than being in a hospital room, with the sounds of medical equipment and nurses coming in day and night.”
Karl had minor complications unrelated to the outpatient procedure and spent a few days in the hospital towards the end of her two-week recovery, but said she was happy to spend her first recovery time at the hotel.
A stem cell transplant may include:
• Autologous (using a patient’s own stem cells collected and stored before treatment)
• Allogeneic (using stem cells from a related or unrelated donor)
• Syngeneic (using stem cells donated by identical twins)
• Cord blood (using cord blood donated after a baby is born)
UC Davis oncologist Joseph Tuscano performed the two-hour transplant in late April. He said most outpatient stem cell transplant patients can recover at home as long as they live within an hour of the cancer center. If not, on-campus hotel accommodations are available.
“Outpatient stem cell transplants provide all the benefits of the standard clinical version of this life-saving procedure,” Tuscano says. “But we think there will be a decrease in recovery time and an increase in the mental well-being of patients who may be stressed by long hospitalizations and separation from family.”
Offering outpatient stem cell transplants is even more important in times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospital visitors are limited.
“We think being with loved ones is an important part of the recovery process,” Tuscano says. “It also lowers health care costs and allows the patient to enjoy life again, which is what it’s all about.”
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center serving the Central Valley and inland Northern California, a region of more than 6 million people. The specialists provide compassionate, comprehensive care to more than 15,000 adults and children each year and have access to more than 150 active clinical trials at any time. The innovative research program includes more than 225 UC Davis scientists working together to advance the discovery of new tools for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Patients have access to advanced care, including immunotherapy and other targeted treatments. The Office of Community Outreach and Engagement addresses the disparities in cancer outcomes across populations, and the cancer center provides comprehensive education and staffing programs for the next generation of clinicians and scientists. For more information, visit cancer.ucdavis.edu.