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Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Celebrates 1,000th Stem Cell Transplant

When Marcos C. Perez was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, an uncommon cancer of the blood-producing cells of the bone marrow, he began treatment at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. After three rounds of chemotherapy, Perez received stem cell transplants last spring in order to rebuild the white blood cells in his immune system.

From left, Andrea Williams, Dr. Krishna Komanduri, and Harold Eugene Williams, Andrea’s husband.

“It’s been a battle, but fortunately I was in very good health,” Perez said at a March 16 reception for Sylvester stem cell transplant patients at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center on the Coral Gables campus. “So far, the transplant seems to be working. I am very positive about my outcome, because so many patients come out of Sylvester as winners in the battle against cancer.”

More than 100 Sylvester patients, family members, faculty and staff shared their stories at the “Celebration of 1,000 Stem Cell Transplants,” marking a milestone in the growth of one of the nation’s largest adult stem cell transplant programs.

“It is a privilege to welcome you to our third annual stem cell celebration,” said Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D. “Behind the doctors and nurses is a full team committed to making everything go smoothly for our patients. Today, our program is a model for other transplant centers across the nation.”

The program has grown steadily under the leadership of Krishna V. Komanduri, M.D., medical director of the adult stem cell transplant program, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology, and past president of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

“In our first year at Sylvester, we did 55 stem cell transplants,” said Komanduri, noting that the program surpassed 1,000 transplants in March.   “We are on track to do 240 this year. Even more important is the high quality of our clinical care. But as we celebrate our survivors, we need to remember the people we have lost and the ongoing need to support our clinical and basic research.”

Gisenia Reyes

Nimer paid tribute to Joseph D. Rosenblatt, M.D., chief of hematology-oncology, professor of medicine and the William J. Harrington Chair in Hematology, who played an instrumental role in the stem cell transplant program, which began at Jackson Memorial Hospital before moving to Sylvester in 2011.

At the reception, Andrea Williams described her Sylvester cancer journey after being diagnosed in 2013 with amyloidosis, a dangerous buildup of proteins in the heart, kidneys and liver caused by a cancer of the bone marrow. Fortunately, her doctor, James E. Hoffman, M.D., a board-certified hematologist at Sylvester, was able to diagnose her disease so she could begin treatment before there was serious damage to her organs.

After Williams received high doses of chemotherapy to kill the malfunctioning bone marrow cells, Denise L. Pereira, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine, transplanted new stem cells to the bone marrow on November 15, 2015.

“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life,” said Williams. “Now, I speak to other Sylvester patients and have written a book to help others going through transplants. The team saved my life and now they can’t get rid of me!”

Another Sylvester patient, Gisenia Reyes, received a stem cell transplant from her identical twin Lucia in 2015. “I lost my hair, but not my hope,” she said. “Now, our ‘We Care’ organization provides care packages for children dealing with cancer. Coming to Sylvester changed my life, and my pain has given me purpose.”


Tags: Krishna Komanduri, Stephen Nimer, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center