Survivor Story

    Tammy Hart Dyer, Nashville, TN
On May 22, 2009, I watched my oldest son, Jeremy, walk across the stage at the Grand Ole Opry to accept his high school diploma. I wouldn’t have been there if someone had not had the generosity to donate their cord blood and I am forever grateful.

In the last week of January of 2007, my life was really coming together and I was in a great place. At 39, I had started a new job in December. My two boys – Jeremy, 15 and Joseph, 6 – were thriving and my husband had a good paying job and we were ready to start getting ahead as opposed to catching up.

I was taking good care of myself, too. I exercised with Pilates three times a week, and on days I wasn’t in the studio, I spent thirty or forty minutes on the treadmill. I was feeling fulfilled and healthy in body, mind, and spirit. That’s when it hit.

It seemed like the onset of the flu. Many of my co-workers had come down with an unusual flu that had kept many of them home sick for four to five days and hung on for another week afterward so that seemed like a logical event.

Saturday, I experienced more flu-like symptoms – diarrhea, vomiting, and chills. I cancelled my plans to be in a 5K walk for the local zoo, but I had to travel to Bethlehem, PA Sunday to present a two-day training. I’m not really sure how I got through the training because my symptoms did not get better. In between sessions, I’d run to the bathroom to vomit and my fever did not go away. I was very grateful when the plane touched down in Nashville Tuesday evening and I could just go home.

I stayed home until the following Friday evening. Daily calls to my doctor assured me that it was just the flu, but my instincts said there was something wrong. Around 10:30 p.m., I called my mother-in-law (my husband was working late) and asked her to take me to the emergency room. After doing some basic tests and not finding anything definitive, the doctor decided to admit me to the hospital for observation. I was relieved because I thought I was seriously dehydrated and afraid to go home.

After that, things happened quickly and the entire experience was very chaotic. While they did not have an exact diagnosis, they suspected cancer and assigned me to an Oncologist who was leaving on vacation for ten days. When I asked her what I could do she said, “Just stay alive until I get back and try not to let these people drive you crazy.” I repeated this statement in my head even in my coma and it – and my need to be alive for my kids - saved my life.

Over the next week, my liver counts continued to decline. The following week I was incubated and moved to the ICU. During this time the hospital had sent my biopsy to cancer specialist hospital around the country- first, Sloan in NY, then MD Anderson in Texas - until it finally got to the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, where a pathologist diagnosed it as NK-cell lymphoma. Only about two people annually are diagnosed with this cancer in the US and most die within the first few weeks of diagnosis because it is so aggressive. My family was told I probably would not survive the partial chemotherapy treatment they were going to attempt and that I had only hours to live. They had no idea how determined I can be.

It took 46 days in the hospital to fight back from the initial onset and treatment of this cancer, followed by 70 more days of intensive chemotherapy, but all the doctors I talked to insisted that I needed a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible if I was going to beat this cancer. My doctor said that there was about an 80 percent chance that we would find a match in the donor registry, but we didn’t. My life could have ended right here except for those who had championed the public collection of cord blood units and those who were kind enough to donate their own cord blood for a stranger.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center physicians had just started doing adult transplants using cord blood so they looked in the cord blood registry and found a match. I am convinced that I have been cured from a horrible disease and that I will live a long, full life that will include seeing my children grow and prosper in their own right. I have spoken with numerous individuals who are looking to using cord blood to help them fight other immune diseases and even paralysis.

I am committed to working through every outlet, including The Brady Kohn Foundation, to help spread the word about the benefits of cord blood donation and I beg you to consider taking the time to talk to your doctor and make sure your cord blood is saved. Just a few conversations and your generosity could save someone’s life. It saved mine.

  • Give life.Twice.
  • The Brady Kohn Foundation ph (302) 765-2875 • fx (302) 765-3343 P.O. Box 7261 Wilmington, DE 19803