Health Care

Spectrum Health performs bone marrow transplants

April 16, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Spectrum Health performs bone marrow transplants
Stephanie F. Williams, MD, left, of Spectrum Health and bone marrow patient Kevin VanZaten participate in a Google+ Hangout. Courtesy Spectrum Health

West Michigan adults who need a blood or marrow transplant (BMT) to help them fight cancer can now receive treatment nearer to home, according to an announcement by Spectrum Health.

Spectrum Health said this month that the new Spectrum Health Adult BMT Program began performing transplants in late February, with the hospital system predicting it will provide up to 50 adult transplants this year.

There are four adult BMT programs in Michigan, with Spectrum Health offering the only adult BMT program in the western half of the state.

While this is the first adult program in the area, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has been providing blood and marrow transplants for children since 1998.

Blood or marrow transplants

BMT is an option for patients who have cancer, immune system disorders, metabolic disease and other life-threatening conditions.

The adult program BMTs are performed by Stephanie F. Williams, MD, division chief, adult blood and marrow transplant program at Spectrum Health Medical Group.

"Spectrum Health is initially focusing on doing transplants for patients with lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)," Williams said. "A transplant offers many of these patients real hope to get back to their lives."

So far, the BMT patients have received autologous transplants, meaning that their own blood stem cells are used. Unrelated, or allogeneic, transplants are expected to begin later this year.

A local program for adults is good news for patients awaiting a transplant.

"The typical patient can spend up to a month in the hospital. They continue their recovery in a protected environment for another one to two months and then return frequently for check-ups," explains Williams. "This is a tough experience to go through alone. Having to travel far and stay away so long after a transplant has been emotionally difficult, disruptive and expensive for our cancer patients and their families."

Michigan Blood and transplants

Spectrum Health works closely with Michigan Blood, based in Grand Rapids, in several areas of transplant patient care.

The Michigan Blood staff and labs provide tissue typing for patients and potential donors, special blood components to meet patients’ needs during the transplant process, blood stem cell collection through the apheresis process and the processing, labeling, freezing and storage of blood stem cells for future transplantation, according to Lee Ann Weitekamp, MD, vice president, quality and medical services at Michigan Blood.

Michigan Blood also operates Michigan's first public cord bank, one of 20 in the nation, and is affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match Registry.

"Patients turn to the Registry for help in finding a donor match when they cannot do autologous transplant or one from a family member," explained Weitekamp.

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