After a roller-coaster summer filled with advances and setbacks, Mandi Schwartz ’11, the Yale women’s hockey forward stricken with leukemia, is back to waiting.
Schwartz, who has battled acute myeloid leukemia for more than 20 months and had been in remission since June 9, learned earlier this month that her cancer had returned for a third time. The news came just weeks before Schwartz was scheduled to receive a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant Aug. 27 at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Two “five-out-of-six” cord blood matches have been located for Schwartz, but she must be in remission in order to receive the stem cell transplant. After completing an additional round of chemotherapy last week, she is set to undergo a biopsy today — though a recent fever may spell a delay in the procedure. The results of this biopsy, due Monday, will determine whether Schwartz will receive the transplant in the coming weeks.
LONG ROAD TO A DONOR
For Schwartz, the long struggle with cancer began in December 2008. After withdrawing from Yale for the semester to receive treatment, she spent 130 days in the hospital in Canada and was released with a clean bill of health in May 2009. Eleven months later, the 22-year old learned that her cancer had returned, and she entered chemotherapy for the second time in April 2010.
The two cord blood matches located for Schwartz in early August cropped up after extensive searching. She previously had a “nine-out-of-10” bone marrow donor, but the pairing was risky enough that doctors did not attempt a transplant. Her two matches are imperfect but still suitable for the transplant, said Dean Forbes, a spokesman for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a division of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
With the stem cell donations for her transplant finally located, Schwartz was on the brink of a potentially life-saving procedure when her cancer surged again — postponing the transplant and requiring her to undergo more chemotherapy. She was discharged from the University of Washington Medical Center on Aug. 19 after receiving her latest round of the treatment.
But just two days ago, Schwartz had to return to the hospital after she began running a fever, her mother, Carol Schwartz, said Thursday. While the fever itself is no longer a major concern, she said, it may be a symptom of more serious health matters. If results from current tests show that the fever is not a symptom of a relapse, Mandi Schwartz is set to be discharged in time for her biopsy today, her mother said.
Schwartz, a Saskatchewan, Canada, native, has been staying in Seattle with her parents and her fiancé, Kaylem Prefontaine. The family traveled from Saskatchewan to Seattle by RV after Schwartz had been declared in remission for the second time and was discharged from Pasqua Hospital in Saskatchewan on July 11.
Still, while summer has been a time of medical ups and downs for Schwartz, her family, friends and teammates, along with members of the Yale community, have continued to rally behind her — recruiting donors, generating publicity and raising awareness about her plight.
Teammate Aleca Hughes ’12 held a goal-a-thon and bone marrow drive in Foxboro, Mass., on July 30. Samantha MacLean ’11, the 2010-’11 women’s hockey captain, traveled to Yale this fall by biking 512 miles from Toronto to New Haven in “The Ride for 17.” (Schwartz’s jersey number is 17.) The trip, which served as a fundraiser and aimed to raise awareness of the need for bone marrow and stem cell donors, began Aug. 22 and took five days.
“We’ve done bone marrow drives at Yale and in parts of Canada and the U.S. Some of the girls have done their own fundraisers,” MacLean said. “I think Mandi really knows that we care about her and that everybody is thinking of her.”
MacLean said she has been in touch with Schwartz over the summer, noting that her teammate has been biking this summer and seemed well when they last spoke. Still, MacLean said Schwartz does not complain.
“She sounded really good, and she was in good spirits,” MacLean said. “She said the chemo was bothering her a little, which is to be expected.”
Meanwhile, former Yale men’s hockey player Brennan Turner ’09 led efforts in Canada on Schwartz’s behalf. Turner, who attended the same high school as Schwartz, organized a series of bone marrow donor testing drives through CBC’s “Play On!” four-on-four street hockey tournament, which took place in nine major Canadian cities throughout the summer.
It is unknown whether Schwartz’s donors were located through the bone marrow drives held on her behalf, as the sources of the cord blood donations are kept confidential, but the people registered at those drives could nonetheless save the lives of others.
SCHWARTZ IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Thanks to the outpouring of support she has received, Schwartz’s story has spread far and wide in past months, garnering national news attention from major media outlets such as The New York Times and ESPN. CBC News, AOL FanHouse and News Channel 8 WTNH have also written reports on Schwartz’s story, and she has been featured in several segments on News Channel 8.
“I think the most important thing is for anyone who reads any kind of article to spread the word to anyone they know,” former women’s hockey coach Hilary Witt said in June. “I think the more information people have, the better chance we have of finding somebody who’s a match.”
While the publicity has catapulted Schwartz into the limelight, the media attention also brought one of Schwartz’s major benefactors, Tedd Collins IV, under fire at the end of July. A self-described New Haven-based clinical immunologist, Collins, 53, had been at the forefront of the quest to locate a bone marrow or cord blood match for Schwartz.
After Collins’s 26-year-old daughter, Natasha, died of leukemia last August, he founded two charities to locate donors for leukemia patients, through which he raised more than $10,000 for Schwartz and other leukemia patients this year, according to an article published by The New York Times. But the Times reported on July 27 that Collins is the subject of a fraud investigation by federal prosecutors in Kentucky, and has been involved in a number of other lawsuits over the past decade. Since then, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 has opened an investigation into Collins’s two charities: Become My Hero and Natasha’s Place.
Yale spokeswoman Elizabeth Stauderman said in a phone interview July 29 that the University has cut ties with Collins and that it supports Blumenthal’s investigation.
While the University has severed relations with Collins, Stauderman said the Yale community will remain focused on Schwartz’s treatment and recovery and continue to work for her cause.
More than 1,600 people have joined the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be the Match” registry as a result of efforts on Schwartz’s behalf, according to a statement published by the Office of Public Affairs, and more than 2,600 have joined a similar stem cell and marrow network in Canada.