More Than Five Years Later, Dana Severson Finally Met Her Match

Northwestern Medicine
Cancer Care/Oncology May 30, 2014
Only days after celebrating her daughter’s first birthday, Dana Severson was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at the age of 28. She was suffering from severe headaches and extreme exhaustion for several weeks beforehand, but had no idea it was due to cancer. After her diagnosis, Severson met Northwestern Medicine® oncologist Jessica Altman, MD

“Dr. Altman said to me ‘It’s not going to be easy, but we will beat this,’” said Severson. “I went through one round of high dose chemotherapy and most of the cancer was gone, but not all of it. During the second round was when we began searching for a stem cell donor.”

AML is an aggressive cancer that starts in a person’s bone marrow and replaces healthy blood cells with cancer cells, putting the patient at high risk for infections and complications of bleeding. When chemotherapy fails to stop the cancer as it did with Severson, or if the leukemia is likely to come back despite chemotherapy, clinicians turn to allogeneic stem cell or bone marrow transplants to replace the patient’s abnormal cells with healthy cells from a matching donor.

“We first tested Dana’s sister, but she wasn’t a match so we began searching the national registry,” said Altman, who is also a member of the Northwestern Medicine Developmental Therapeutics Institute (NMDTI) and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “It can take three to six months to locate a compatible stem cell donor for a patient. In Dana’s case, we were able to identify a donor relatively quickly.”

Severson’s stem cells came from an anonymous donor that was identified through Be the Match, a national bone marrow and stem cell registry with more than 8 million donors and 160,000 searchable cord blood units. Severson underwent the stem cell transplant on October 14, 2008, a day she now refers to as her “second birthday.”

For more than five years, Severson imagined meeting her donor and this past month she finally did. She met Keith Engholm in person for the first time on the Today Show, during a segment about the importance of registering with the national bone marrow registry. Engholm and his wife also recently traveled from their home in Alabama to meet Severson’s family and Dr. Altman.

Watch the video below to learn more about their amazing story.

To learn more about joining the national registry, visit the Be the Match. Learn more about cancer care and treatment at Northwestern.

Read more about Severson’s story.
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