Barb Mindel was referred to doctors at the OSUCCC – James in 1990 with acute lymphocytic leukemia and in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Barb, a computer systems manager for The Ohio State University's Office of Continuing Education, received a bone marrow transplant, or BMT, using cells from an unrelated donor.
Years later, Barb recalls the long, scary journey from diagnosis, through the transplant, recovery and later getting to know the donor who saved her life.
"It started when I had bruises on my legs, but I had a 2-year-old, so I didn't give them much thought,” she said. “When I found enlarged lymph nodes in my neck, that got me to the doctor."
That was April 1986. Barb was only 36 years old at the time.
A round of chemotherapy put her cancer into remission, but in February 1990, the bruises reappeared, and Barb knew her leukemia was back.
The only chance for a cure, doctors told her, was a bone marrow transplant.
"It was terrifying,” Barb said. “They told me I had a 30 percent chance of survival — I felt like digging a hole and crawling in."
Barb's physicians at the OSUCCC – James tested her only sibling, but he was not a compatible match. The only chance was for an unrelated matched donor to turn up on the National Marrow Donor Registry.
A match was found with a donor from Racine, Wisconsin, and Barb's transplant took place after a round of myeloablative chemotherapy to kill off her body's existing marrow — and the leukemia cells in her blood.
"The care I received at the OSUCCC – James was outstanding,” Barb said. “The doctors were wonderful and the nursing staff was exceptional. I could not imagine having a better group of people working on my behalf.”
The toughest part for Barb was being separated from her 6-year-old daughter during her transplant recovery. "While I was in the hospital, she'd dance around outside my hospital window on the lawn below, we'd talk on walkie talkies, and we exchanged videos," Barb said.
Gradually, Barb’s life returned to normal. Weeks passed, then months and years. After five years, in 1995, her doctors gave her a clean bill of health.
Along with her health, Barb was given another gift — the friendship of Mark Hertzberg, the donor whose bone marrow saved her life.
Not long after her transplant, Barb sent the anonymous donor a thank you card and letter. Mark, the donor, replied, and the two set up a correspondence that continues to this day.
Mark, a photojournalist, said he was inspired to register as a donor by a friend who died of leukemia.
"It was an unbelievable feeling when I got a call that I was a possible match for someone," Mark said.
The two remain in touch, always making a point to connect on September, 20, the anniversary of Barb's transplant.