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Avera Cancer Institute

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Sioux Falls, SD 57105
605-322-3000

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Bone Marrow Transplant Patient Meets a True Hero - Her Unrelated Donor

Sherry Bryant

In 2008, Sherry Bryant of Madison, Minn., was faced with the greatest challenge of her life – a life-threatening diagnosis of leukemia. “I was at 85 percent blast cells,” she said. Leukemia is considered acute when blast cell count is over 20 percent.

She needed a bone marrow transplant but had no siblings who could donate healthy bone marrow for this procedure. Sherry’s only choice was to wait for a non-related donor to be identified from the national marrow donor registry.

Some 16 years earlier, in North Carolina, a woman named Laura had undergone a cheek swab to have her name listed as a potential donor. Laura, an EMT, wanted to help a firefighter in her community who had been diagnosed with leukemia. At that time, she wasn’t a match to help him, but she kept her name in the national registry. When she got the call that she was a close match she was still willing to give the gift of life – even though she didn’t know anything about the person who would benefit from her bone marrow.

The transplant of Laura’s healthy stem cells into Sherry’s bloodstream in July of 2008 was a success, and today Sherry is in remission and in good health.

Sherry felt a great deal of gratitude toward her unknown donor, but because of privacy rules, she had no idea who it was and could not personally express her thanks. When asked if she wanted to fill out an information sheet in case her donor wished to reveal his or her identity, she was more than willing.

“I then received a card that my donor had sent. She gave her phone number, and we talked over the phone and became acquainted,” Sherry said. The two decided to meet during the summer of 2012.  Sherry says she and Laura share a bond that is different from any other relationship.

“It was wonderful. She is a very humble person. She said she didn’t want any thanks. Seeing that my transplant has been successful was thanks enough. She didn’t want to be viewed as a hero, but that’s what she’ll always be to me. She did something so incredible for me. She gave me the gift of a lifetime – the gift of life,” Sherry said.

Sherry’s gratitude also extends to Avera. “There is a higher power who was guiding me. It was just as if I was being directed. I’m so grateful for everyone, from the doctors, to the nurses and social workers. They were a second family to me as I went through this journey, which was a miracle in the works,” she said.

“They’ve got a dream team at Avera – it’s an incredible gift to this area,” Sherry said. “We are very fortunate to have this wonderful facility and transplant program, right in our own backyard in the Midwest.”

Sherry went through what many cancer patients do – loss of strength and appetite, and loss of her hair. She remembers becoming more and more ill while receiving high doses of chemotherapy to kill off her diseased bone marrow. “Yet my spirits were really high because I knew I had this match. I knew things were about to change dramatically for me.”

Today, it’s her goal to share hope with others who find themselves where she was – facing a life-threatening diagnosis. When in the hospital or the Avera Cancer Institute, she’s not shy about going up to someone who appears to be dealing with a difficult diagnosis in order to offer encouragement, and a hand on the shoulder.

“Maybe their situation isn’t as hopeless as it seems,” Sherry says. “A cancer diagnosis is not like the flu – you have it and you’re over it. It’s a long process. I have come back from a very difficult cancer. I want others to know that there are people who are willing to walk with you every step of the way. There are so many things that can be done to help you. Do not give up without a fight – there is hope. You’ll never be sorry for giving it your all.”