Schwartz ‘doing OK’ after stem cell transplant

Mandi Schwartz ’11 is tired, but “doing OK” after receiving a long-awaited stem cell transplant Wednesday, her mother told the News.

The women’s hockey player underwent the procedure, the latest step in her battle against leukemia, at around 3:30 p.m. local time at the inpatient transplant unit of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, at the University of Washington Medical Center. The procedure took 32 minutes and there were no complications, said Dean Forbes, a spokesman for the cancer center.

“It went well — it was a pretty short procedure,” Carol Schwartz, Mandi’s mother, said in a phone interview Thursday. “It was more of an emotional day, a meaningful day to our family, than it was a medical day.”

Schwartz, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada, has been in and out of chemotherapy for more than 20 months since she was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2008. After months of searching for an adequate bone marrow or stem cell donor, two stem cell matches were located in early August. Doctors scheduled Schwartz’s transplant for Aug. 27, after declaring her in remission on June 9. But the timeline changed when Schwartz learned Aug. 11 that her cancer had returned for a third time.

On Aug. 31, Schwartz again entered remission after completing additional chemotherapy. She underwent a daily pair of hour-long radiation sessions between Sept. 15 and 17, and had another two days of chemotherapy on Sunday and Monday to prepare for the transplant.

Carol Schwartz said the family is prepared to face anything in upcoming weeks, as infections and side effects frequently crop up in the aftermath of a stem cell transplant.

“[Mandi] is tired and she’s weaker than what she would want to be, but it was a promising day,” Carol Schwartz said. “We’ve got some tough weeks ahead, but hopefully everything will turn out well and [Mandi] will resume leading the life she wants to lead.”

Back at Yale, Schwartz’s teammates gathered Wednesday morning to hold a moment of silence for the forward as she approached her procedure, goaltender Jackee Snikeris ’11 said. Several members of the team also wore their “Mandi shirts” that day — dark blue Yale hockey shirts sporting Schwartz’s number, 17, and an orange ribbon on the back.

“[The procedure] was definitely a date on our calendar and for it to finally happen is amazing,” Snikeris said. “We’re all really happy for it to finally come through in the end.”

The procedure, which is carried out like a blood transfusion, used stem cells from two anonymous umbilical cord blood unit donations to public cord blood banks.

“It was one of the few options that was remaining in her medical plan, so it was very important,” Schwartz’s mother said of the procedure. “It’s a life-saving treatment, and we appreciated that it could occur, because we had some stumbling blocks along the way.”

Now, with the transplant completed at last, Schwartz will wait to see if the stem cells successfully begin to grow in her bone marrow and rebuild her immune system. Forbes said it will take about three weeks to determine whether the transplant was successful, and that Schwartz will remain in the hospital during that stretch of time as her immune system is still weak. Carol Schwartz said Mandi currently has a white blood cell count of zero and no antibodies of her own to fight infection.

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