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Boise woman receives first allogeneic transplant in Idaho

Allogeneic transplants are when the stem cells come from a donor's bone marrow or bloodstream. Idahoans had to leave the state to get one of these transplants done - until now.

BOISE -- A woman diagnosed with aggressive leukemia received the first allogeneic stem cell transplant in Idaho on Thursday.

Allogeneic transplants are when the stem cells come from a donor's bone marrow or bloodstream. Idahoans had to leave the state to get one of these transplants done - until now.

Candidates for this program are people diagnosed with diseases that damage or destroy their bone marrow, such as lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, acute leukemia, aplastic anemia and testicular cancer.

KTVB spoke with the woman receiving the first transplant two weeks ago, before she began intensive chemotherapy treatment to prepare her body for the transplant, and the renowned doctor brought to Idaho to save more lives closer to home.

St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) has done autologous transplants with the patient's own stem cells since 1993. They just started the Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program this year - the first and only of its kind in Idaho. History was made on Thursday, with the first patient getting her sister's bone marrow cells - the only option for a potential cure.

Patricia Edwards was diagnosed in January and told that to treat her myeloid leukemia, an allogeneic transplant was the best option.

"I said: What are my chances without going this route? And [my doctor] said four to six months," Edwards said.

But she'd have to go down to Salt Lake City, Utah.

"One of the things that bothered me the most was that I'd have to be there for three months. And I'm a homebody so I like to be home. So that was really distressing to me because I didn't want to be gone for that long," she said.

When her doctor told her she could actually be the first to take part in St. Luke's Blood and Marrow Transplant program, she said she was relieved and overcome with happiness.

"It's just answered a prayer because I did not want to go back there and so all through it I've just been very fortunate," Edwards told KTVB.

Her sister was a perfect match and flew from the U.K. to donate her stem cells. The process is incredibly long and intense, and is putting Patricia in the hospital for a month, followed by months of recovery and more treatment.

"If it saves my life it's well worth it, isn't it," Edwards added.

She has a huge team behind her.

"I think she's done really well," St. Luke's MSTI Blood and Marrow Transplant Program director, Dr. Finn Petersen, said. "A lot of resources was allocated to staff up, to train, to send staff to places where it was done to learn, and then to hire up with the experts that are needed to run the program."

Dr. Petersen was brought in from Utah to start the program at St. Luke's.

"People want these kinds of treatments close to their home," Dr. Petersen told KTVB. "The program offers a treatment to patients with blood cancer of a type that there is no treatment for or only treatment that will buy time. What the program offers is a treatment that potentially can cure these patients."

He says it is typically available only at university hospitals because it's so complicated and high-end; the patient is getting a whole new immune system.

"Where the trick then is to get this new healthy donor immune system to fight the patient's cancer. So it is what we call cellular therapy. There can be chemotherapy associated with it, there can be radiation associated with it, but we are more and more coming to the understanding that the key to curing the patient is to get the donor immune cells to do the job," Petersen said.

The transplants being done in Idaho are providing hope for certain types of cancers that can't be treated and potentially cured without them.

"You do this procedure because you are going for the cure," Dr. Petersen said. "We know that without an allo transplant her disease will result in her death. And probably within a year or so without the transplant. And with the transplant she has a much better chance."

It is groundbreaking for Idaho and Idahoans, as our state continues to grow and more people are diagnosed with these diseases.

"I'm happy to help pioneer what's happening here," Edwards said. "The strides they've made in, you know, bringing all this technology and knowledge here to little Boise - it's wonderful."

Now that this program is in place at the Boise MSTI, Dr. Petersen says a cascade effect is occurring of more life-saving treatments coming to Boise.

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