Today was a long and rewarding day. We woke up at 5:00 a.m.so that I could take my neupogen shots and arrive at the hospital by 6:30 for the placement of my catheter. All went well and then we were off to the Rube Walker Blood Center for the start of the stem cell collection process, otherwise known as "Harvest Day".
This picture is of me once I was hooked up to the collection machine. As you can see, I had the catheter placed in the right side of my neck. They need to use the catheter because of the large volume of blood that will be extracted and returned to me in a short amount of time. The nurse told us that during this process my blood will essentially be circulated through my body and this machine at least three times.
For those of you out there who have tried plasma pheresis this machine should look quite familiar. This apheresis machine is used for many different types of blood collection. In my case, today, it was used to collect the plasma and stem cells, separating them from the remaining parts of my blood. The remaining blood was warmed and returned to my body along with normal saline solution. It amazes me how this machine is capable of separating all the different parts of our blood. In this picture, you can see the stem cells that have been collected in the upper right hand corner. The bag that has the red liquid in it. One thing to remember when moving large amounts of blood in and out of the body is that your calcium tends to fluctuate. As a result, you will feel tingling in your lips and hands. To help prevent this, a bag of calcium is normally given to the patient during this procedure. Today, I had an unusual amount of tingling in my lips and hands so in addition to the IV bag of calcium, I was also given Tums as often as needed. Although everyone's experience is a little different, my collection time, or amount of time hooked up to the apheresis machine, was about three hours in length. This does not include the total amount of time spent in the blood center, which for me was about six hours. Once the stem cells are collected, they are sent to the blood bank where they are counted. For the CIDP stem cell transplant, a minimum of 2 million stem cells are required. I was fortunate that my body gave up 17.89 million of these tiny cells. In addition, the nurse said that I will still only receive 2 million stem cells during my transplant in July, but the extras will be saved in case I ever need them in the future. Once my nurse had received word that my stem cell numbers were above the minimum and my platelets were normal, the catheter was removed.
It was important to Ann and I for our daughters to see first-hand this part of the stem cell process. The girls were very intrigued as they watched the apheresis machine work its magic. My hope is that from these experiences our daughters will grow up to have a compassionate heart and an undying determination to continually strive to reach their goals.
Tonight as I lay here exhausted from the day I feel a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that my stem cell harvest is completed. As I have reached the midpoint in this journey, my heart goes out to those who are struggling with this disease and don't have the same opportunity as me. I still have a long windy road to travel, but along the way I want to help as many people as I can. Ann and I plan to establish a foundation to ease the financial burden of this disease for others and give back for all that we have been given. It may only be a dollar today, but in time it is our prayer that it will continually grow. Phillipians 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.