Leukemia Patient Meets Bone Marrow Donor Who Saved Her Life

Margaret Lytz went for an eye exam in 2013 as she did every year. During the exam, her eye doctor knew something wasn’t right. Margaret was bleeding behind her eyes and in the back of her head.  

The optometrist urged Margaret to go straight to her doctor’s office in Akron, where she would have a series of blood tests. Her doctor suspected leukemia. A few days later, a bone marrow biopsy would pinpoint the diagnosis: chronic myeloid leukemia.

Doctors were optimistic that her type of leukemia could be managed with medication. Unfortunately, Margaret proved to be allergic to the drugs or unable to handle their side effects.

Unsure of how else to help Margaret, her doctor sent her to Cleveland Clinic. There Margaret met with an oncologist, who reviewed her case and recommended a bone marrow transplant.

That prompted a visit with oncologist and transplant specialist Betty Hamilton, MD from Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center's Blood & Marrow Transplant Program.

“How do you thank someone for saving your life? There’s just not words for that.”

Dr. Hamilton immediately placed Margaret on the national bone marrow registry. About three months later, Margaret was matched with an unknown donor.

“I wasn’t worried or scared,” she says. “I knew I was in good hands.”

Margaret received heavy-dose chemotherapy for one week while the mystery donor moved forward with his own tests and procedures.

“Everything had to be coordinated just right,” says Margaret. “The timing had to be perfect.”

Once the transplant was complete, Margaret began her road to recovery. Despite overwhelming weakness and tiredness, she followed her care team’s directions and went home from the hospital one month after transplant.

Eventually, Margaret and her husband, Mike, returned to operating the winery they’d owned since 2007. Margaret credited her experience with sparking a desire to live in the moment and reigniting her religious faith.

She also felt an overwhelming gratitude for the donor who had given his bone marrow. One day she texted him, “Thankful to be alive!”

“I’m glad my stem cells are going to good use!” he replied.

In 2018, five years after her transplant, Margaret finally came face to face with her donor, John Dengel. They met at a special event arranged by Cleveland Clinic.

“I just noticed his smile and hugged him,” she says. “How do you thank someone for saving your life? There’s just not words for that.”

Related Institutes: Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center
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