First successful, unrelated donor stem cell transplant in Boise

Posted at 12:02 PM, Mar 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-25 13:54:09-04

BOISE — "It was a very aggressive leukemia," said Melody Hawley, "at that time it was pretty serious."

In a matter of six months, Melody Hawley's leukemia diagnosis escalated to the point where there was only one treatment option, a stem cell transplant.

"The main thing about transplantation is you want to find the best possible match, so the first choice is a matched related donor and if that's not a possibility you look for a matched unrelated donor," said oncologist Dr. Travis Williams at St. Luke's.

Her daughter volunteered, but a child to parent transplant is only a "half match," which meant a higher chance of rejection.

"Too risky for me, they weren't sure I'd survive that type of transplant, the related donor," said Hawley.

She got help from a stranger. Of the millions registered with "Be The Match," Melody says she quite literally won the lottery with her perfect match.

"I had one person out of 17 million on the registry that matched me as a 10/10 match, so I didn't have a backup plan," said Hawley "had she done anything differently, had she walked by that table or that opportunity to register, I might not be here right now."

This is the first allogeneic stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor, in Boise. Usually, patients have to travel to bigger cities to receive this procedure, but Hawley received her's at st. Luke's.

"We've done 9, no 10, transplants so far and this is the first unrelated donor transplant so far, and it's gone very well," said Williams.

Dr. Williams is 1 of the three transplanting physicians at St. Luke's, and one day he could possibly be on the other end of the operation.

"I signed up 16 years ago and never been called," said Williams.

One hundred days post-transplant, Melody is looking at a leukemia-free life.

"I received information today that you know that the leukemia is not detected in my body anymore," said Hawley.

And while there's already a happy ending of this journey so far, her story's not over for another year when she can meet her donor.

"I don't know how you say thank you to somebody that's saved your life, but I'm going to try," said Hawley.