What makes a stem cell transplant different?

There’s been a lot of confusion on the difference between a stem cell transplant, a bone marrow transplant, and an organ transplant.  I want to explain it a bit from a patient’s perspective rather than a medical answer 🙂

Whether you hear someone talking about a “stem cell transplant” or a “bone marrow transplant,” they are still referring to stem cell transplantation. The only difference is where in the body the transplanted stem cells came from. The transplants themselves are the same.

First, the most commonly heard of is a bone marrow transplant when it comes to cancer.
A bone marrow transplant is donated stem cells from someone’s bone marrow.  So it still looks like a bag of blood (slightly different in color usually) and it is usually more painful for the giver than the receiver.

Bone Marrow Transplants can treat:

  • Blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma
  • Bone marrow diseases like aplastic anemia
  • Other immune system or genetic diseases like sickle cell disease

Image to know what bone marrow is:

bone marrow

A stem cell transplant can be donated or autoglamus (from yourself).

In Simon’s case it is autoglamus.
Back in about April Simon had stem cells extracted through a large artery in his thigh over about an 18 hour period.  It was awful, he had to be sedated, could not move even to go to the bathroom.
They were able to extract enough for 3 transplants though he would only need 1.

stem cell

For either a stem cell or bone marrow transplant you get VERY HEAVY doses of chemo from day negative 7 (day 0 is when you get the infusion of cells).

The chemo basically has 2 jobs:

  • kill off any remaining cancer cells
  • wipe out your immune system

It sucks.  it sucks BIG time.  You usually still feel pretty good on day 0 when you get the infusion of these cells.  But within a day or 2 your blood counts drop and you are VERY prone to infections, mouth sores, etc.

Then you wait.  You wait to engraft.  Engraftment is when your body accepts the new cells.  This means your ANC  has hit 500.

Then for 100 days post transplant you are basically in quarantine you have NO immune system.  Less than a newborn as all your immunizations have been wiped out.  A newborn at least has some protection from its mothers blood.

You have to wear a very heavy, anti-viral, mask outside the home or when visitors are over.

An organ transplant you start taking immunosuppressants after to help against rejection.

The same with bone marrow transplants (though eventually you can get off them).

But with an organ transplant you STILL HAVE AN IMMUNE SYSTEM.

It’s just suppressed.  So you do have to be careful to not be around people who are sick.  But you still have those immunizations.


I’m trying to make this very clear for those who have not been understanding.
Yes Simon is feeling great.  Any of us would be feeling great being home and getting energy back.
Yes we took Simon to a Christmas party for it was for CANCER FAMILIES and no one would dare bring anyone sick there.

This Christmas season we are being overly cautious.  It is RSV, cold, flu, and yucky other stuff season.  Any fever Simon gets- he’s in the hospital.  Any cold he gets could go south VERY quickly.  We are trying to save his life, not make him anti-social.
We are trying to keep our son healthy, not make enemies or to use as an excuse to not go out.

Our priority in life right now is to keep Simon (and Meg as well) healthy, safe, and with us on this earth longer than their parents.

We love everyone and do wish it was different- we don’t LIKE missing out on things.
We are learning to enjoy the small things with our little family.



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