I Gave My Stem Cells To Save a Life From Cancer And Now I Have Contracted a Deadly Disease With No Cure

August 30, 2014

My name is Hannah Heinzig, and I am 24 years old recently diagnosed with Pemphigus Vulgaris. This is how everyone starts out their story, so I will get those needed details out of the way. Now let me back track a few years.

I went to a small college called East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma to study nursing. My hopes and dreams were to be a missionary nurse overseas in third world countries helping provide healthcare to those who cannot afford it or have to access to good healthcare. As a college student I was very active on campus with international students and Christian campus organizations. I wanted to change the world by loving one human at a time.

As you know, local blood drives love to use college campuses to request help. I loved the idea of being able to give blood and help save a life and gave on several occasions. One particular day at the blood drive there were representatives who were raising awareness for the National Bone Marrow Foundation. I listened all about the new research being done and how you can swab your cheek fill out the necessary paperwork and become a registered member as a possible candidate for either a bone marrow or stem cell donor for cancer patients needing healthy cells.

I was intrigued and of course was always willing to help save a life. Two years passed and I completely forgot about that day until I was in my junior year of nursing and we learned in class about stem cell and bone marrow donation from non familial relations for people with various cancers. The professor asked if anyone in the class had registered as a bone marrow or stem cell donor, I remembered two years ago that I had and realized I was the only one in my class of 75 students who was registered.

The more I learned about it the more I was excited to be a possible match for someone. I prayed that weekend that if God wanted me to be a healthy donor for someone, I was ready and willing. One week later I received a call from the Oklahoma Blood Institute saying I was a possible match for a 37 year old female with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My heart began to pound as I remember my prayer one week prior.

I quickly jotted down the address and agreed to go in for further testing to assess me as a match. Long story short, I was the perfect match and had the privilege to give my healthy stem cells through a process called aphoreis. This process required me to receive subcutaneous injections of the drug, Neupogen for 5 days prior to giving my stem cells.

This drug forces your bones to produce large quantities of healthy stems cells into your blood stream, then on the fifth day they remove all the healthy stem cells from my blood stream and return my blood back to my body. The patient needed approximately 5 million stem cells and I was able to donate 6.4 million. They kept the patient anonymous but were able to tell me that she survived and was doing well. I named her Faith so I could continue to pray for her.

The point of telling you about my stem cell donation is because the story of my disease begins July 2011, the day I gave my stem cells. I was told my immune system would be compromised after giving my stems cells because I gave away 5% of my immunity and it would take approximately 6 weeks to recover. I was prepared for 6 weeks, but what I wasn’t prepared for was two and a half years of suffering with symptoms physicians blew off as stress.

I immediately developed fatigue after giving my stem cells I disregarded this as part of my recovery process. I also lived in a college dormitory so I contributed all of my cold/flu symptoms I continually had as part of my decreased immune system. I started having painful bleeding ulcers in my mouth and oozing scabs on my scalp. I was concerned because I was always very particular about my hygiene both in relation to my hair and teeth.

I was prescribed antibiotics, antivirals, mouth rinses and nothing was helping. Overtime the ulcers were progressively getting worse and my gums became involved and were bleeding and sloughing with the slightest brushing. A year later I called my Oklahoma Blood Institute representative. I asked her if giving my stem cells or taking the new drug Neupogen had anything to do with my symptoms.

She spoke with the physician and assured me there were connections. I was growing hopeless that I would always suffer with these unknown symptoms. I began having a sore throat and extreme pain when swallowing. I remember a particular day at work in the ER breakroom I was crying just trying to drink water.

Eventually I was referred to a periodontist and he thought I either had leukemia or a rare auto immune disorder. I was shocked, how could I possibly have cancer!?! I gave my stem cells to a woman with leukemia to help champion the cause. Soon after, I was diagnosed with PV. There is no cure, it seems hopeless, but I know God has a bigger plan for me than I did for myself. I will fight for the hopeless and trust God for a cure for me and the nations.

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