Local Cancer Program Aims to have Stem Cell Transplants Closer to Home

Dec 13, 2021

The Windsor Regional Hospital Cancer Program is hoping to expand one of its programs to assist and treat patients with blood cancer diagnoses.

The Complex Malignant Hematology (CMH) Program has evolved over many years but the increase in the number of diagnosed patients is reinforcing the need to have an ‘all-inclusive’ program in Windsor that includes the patient’s preparation, treatment, and recovery.

Treatment may include stem cell transplants using the patient’s own stem cells (Autologous Stem Cell Transplant) or a donor’s stem cells (Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplant) which currently takes place in London or Hamilton.

The preparation and part of the recovery currently take place in Windsor.

“We’ve come a long way and a key pillar for this program is care close to home,” says Director of the Windsor Regional Hospital Cancer Program Nicole Sbrocca.

Initially, patients had to travel to other centres in Michigan to receive the life-saving stem cell transplants forcing them to be away from home, their family, and their support system for up to 100 days.

“As more people are diagnosed, it is even more crucial that this care be provided in our region,” says Sbrocca.

Today, patients can prepare for the procedure through medication or chemotherapy in Windsor and then travel to London or Hamilton for the transplant where stem cells are collected and stored. Unfortunately, Windsor does not have the ability to collect, store, and transplant - for now.

The goal in the next five years is to have the proper team and infrastructure in place to support the advanced stem cell transplant treatments for patients close to home. We recently recruited a third physician to boost the CMH expertise.

“The ability to cure more people is so exciting,” noted Dr. Caroline Hamm. “It always strikes me that when I first started here over 20 years ago, we would send one or two patients per year for this Allogeneic transplant in Hamilton. This year, we have already had 15.”

For now, the program’s evolution includes partial recovery in Windsor thanks to partnerships with London and Hamilton along with our physician expertise.

Daniel Thomas, now 70, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2015 and was a candidate for stem cell transplant. He was the first Autologous stem cell transplant recipient from Windsor who was able to come home to recover after his third day.

“I thank God for that,” he says. “It is not easy. You are alone in London or Hamilton and after the stem cell transplant, you go through hard times. If you don’t have family and friends, it is lonelier.”

Today, Thomas is in remission and has ‘maintenance chemo’ once a month. He is using his experience to offer support and hope for other cancer patients in the centre to offer words of encouragement.

“I will take my IV pole and push it to other patients and ask if I can talk to them,” he says as he knows first-hand the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis.

He says new patients are scared and he is glad to offer someone ‘peace of mind’ in their cancer journey.

Courtesy: https://www.wrh.on.ca/newsroom?newsid=5936&fbclid=IwAR2A02WOd7K4VJvC-p4ed-y_qQ7uJFeb49bjFMXZ5LFBpKPRyIpJe4YaSvo