Stem Cells face death to finish degree

(Stem Cells News image)

Claussen’s steep climb to graduation and the drive she has demonstrated to get there will make Saturday’s ceremony cause for a Big Orange celebration.

Growing up, the Nashville native was a star soccer player, honors student, and homecoming queen who never got sick. But in April 2013, during her sophomore year at UT, she made three trips to the emergency room with a temperature of 106. Doctors diagnosed her with mononucleosis.

A few weeks later, on Claussen’s third trip to the ER, an oncology doctor happened to be on call and ordered blood work. After reviewing her results, the doctor told her she needed to summon her parents because her white blood cell count was dangerously low.

Once Claussen’s parents arrived, the doctor told them she had secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). The rare and potentially fatal autoimmune disease occurs in one out of 1.2 million people worldwide (…)

Claussen was told she needed a stem cell transplant to save her life (…)

Two potential donors matched Claussen, but one was automatically eliminated. Her doctors needed a donor who had experienced mono as a child and whose stem cells could fight off the virus if it ever returned.

One potential donor remained—out of 27 million people on the registry.

Claudia Reverts, in Emden, Germany, lived 4,000 miles and an ocean away.

Reverts agreed to donate, but Claussen had to be in remission and mono-free in order to receive the transplant.

Claussen’s mother said doctors administered an extreme round of chemotherapy to wipe out her daughter’s immune system in preparation for the procedure.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Reverts was already devoting thirty hours of her time over a month to give her stem cells to a complete stranger.

On August 23, 2013, just four months after her initial diagnosis, Claussen received Reverts’s stem cells.

Most patients spend two weeks in the hospital after a stem cell transplant. Claussen stayed more than three months, with sixty days spent in complete isolation (…)

By August 2015—the start of Claussen’s senior year—she was able to request information about her donor. International stem cell recipients must wait two years before requesting to contact their donor.

Reverts agreed to share her information with the unknown recipient who had requested it.

“I sent her an e-mail and basically told her thank you for giving me the best gift anyone has given me, a second chance to live,” said Claussen. “I told her about being a senior at UT and that I want to go into the medical field in Nashville when I graduate so I can help other people who are fighting cancer.”

Reverts e-mailed back and told Claussen how much she’d thought of her, wondering about who received her stem cells and whether it had prompted their recovery (…)

With a diploma in hand, Miracle Makayla looks forward to walking off the graduation stage and into the arms of her mother, the woman who gave her life, and then her donor, the woman who saved it.


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