Tomorrow Stems From YouThe Future of Stem Cell Transplants in Ontario

Blood cancers are serious and potentially life-threatening conditions,” explains Dr. Kylie Lepic of Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. “However, stem cell transplants allow us to give patients and their families hope for tomorrow – a chance to live a full and healthy life, cancer-free.”

Time is of the essence. A stem cell transplant can give more tomorrows to many patients suffering from blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. It is a complex but potentially life-saving medical procedure, and patients across Ontario are waiting for their opportunity to receive a transplant.

Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre is just one of three centres providing all forms of stem cell transplants to adult cancer patients in Ontario. A stem cell transplant, particularly a donor-matched or “allogeneic” transplant, is complex and resource intensive, requiring highly-trained clinical teams and specialized facilities. Patients who undergo a transplant require inpatient care for weeks or months, followed by daily visits to the hospital for 100 days following the transplant for testing and monitoring.

The procedure is a method of replacing cells in the bone marrow that cause cancer. New stem cells are infused into the patient so they can attack the underlying diseased cells to help fight the cancer.

Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation has launched a $3.5-million campaign called Tomorrow Stems From You to enable the expansion of dedicated and specialized clinical space, and to purchase essential equipment so Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre can provide 50 per cent more cancer patients with this potentially life-saving treatment once complete in fall 2018.

This expansion will include a dedicated and specially-designed clinical area to house 15
individually-equipped private inpatient rooms, five private outpatient rooms and a dedicated sterile compounding area for chemotherapy preparation.

“This expansion will enable us, as clinicians, to provide leading-edge treatment in a purpose-built space that is optimized for patients going through the biggest challenge of their life,” says Dr. Lepic.    

Public support is critical in making this dedicated stem cell transplant unit a reality. While the government funds the operating expenses and is anticipated to contribute nearly $13-million towards this expansion, The Foundation must raise funds to purchase the essential equipment and fund a portion of the capital costs.

Cassandra Wadham of Burlington is just one example of a patient who benefitted from a stem cell transplant. After suffering from spells of weakness, night sweats and a severe mouth sore, she visited her local Emergency Department and was referred to Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.

A bone marrow biopsy showed 37-year-old Cassandra had acute myeloid leukemia. For seven months, Cassandra underwent chemotherapy and full-body radiation to prepare her system for a stem cell transplant. A matching donor was found and the transplant was successful.

“It took about six weeks for me to recover to the point where I could be discharged,” says Cassandra. “I was in isolation for 100 days at home to minimize the risk of infection, leaving only for medical appointments.”

Cassandra is now thriving and looking forward to February 3, 2017, which will mark five years in remission, at which point she will be considered cured.

“If I didn’t have a stem cell transplant, I probably would have died,” Cassandra says. “I can look forward to tomorrow and the future thanks to my stem cell transplant.”

As one of three centres in Ontario providing all forms of stem cell transplants, the expansion at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre will benefit patients across the province in addition to those in our immediate region.

“I am passionate about the patients and the opportunities that stem cell transplants provide to them,” says Dr. Lepic. “It is incredibly rewarding to share in their cancer journey and work together toward a healthier tomorrow.”