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Teen’s life-saving transplant delayed because there are no hospital beds

An 18-year-old cancer patient has to wait months for a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant because there aren’t any hospital beds, even though a donor match has been found.

The road to recovery from a life-threatening illness is filled with many ups and downs. After battling acute myeloid leukemia for five years, 18-year-old Laura Hillier knows all about the highs and lows, especially after she got some good — and then bad — news about her future treatment.

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The Burlington, Ontario, teen was hoping to undergo a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant in the next few months. She has been told that donor matches are available, but a bed shortage at Hamilton’s Juravinski Hospital means she will have to wait for the treatment. The wait could be as long as six months.

Patients who undergo stem cell transplants have to stay in high-air-pressure rooms to help curb infections while their immune system recovers from the transplant. Hillier told Toronto Star that the hospital said it can only do about five transplants a month, which leaves about 30 patients on a wait-list.

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Hillier, who attended her high school graduation wearing a breathing mask and plastic gloves, says she was shocked when she was told of the delay. “It is crazy to have to be on a wait-list when you have a donor and you are ready to go.” Because of the wait, Hillier will have to go through a fifth round of chemotherapy just to stay in remission.

My family went through a similar process last year when my uncle had a stem cell transplant for myelodysplastic syndromes. It is so incredibly hard to see your family members needlessly suffer while they wait for the next step in a very difficult process. The idea of the stem cell transplant becomes the light at the end of the tunnel. Some patients don’t ever find a donor, so the news that there is a match is a cause for celebration. I can only imagine how difficult finding out about the long wait is for the Hillier family.

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Stem cell transplants are becoming more common thanks to advancements in the area. Unfortunately hospitals aren’t keeping up, and patients can wait six to 12 months because of the lack of isolation rooms or because of staff shortages, said Dr. Ralph Meyer, an oncologist at Juravinski Hospital. Laura Hillier’s mother, Frances, says it is a problem across Canada.

Even though it’s not a perfect process, I urge people to get a swab kit from and sign up to be a stem cell donor. It takes only a minute to complete a swab kit, and you could be the one in a million to save the life of someone waiting for a match.

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