"I was impressed that my doctor was able to diagnose such as rare disorder so quickly. I was sure he could provide every available resource to cure me."
– Stephanie Todd, aplastia anemia survivor
In 1996, Stephanie and her husband Patrick were just celebrating their first wedding anniversary. "We were young," she says, "and when you are young you think your life is invincible." They shared plans of finishing college, traveling the world, and becoming parents. But, in the midst of their dreams, Stephanie found herself becoming continually more tired, even to the point of exhaustion.
She described her symptoms to her doctor during a routine gynecological exam. Blood tests showed her white blood cell count was severely low. Stephanie says when her doctor said the words, "I'd like for you to see an oncologist," she knew something was wrong.
Stephanie's bone marrow biopsy tested positive for aplastic anemia, a rare, but serious disorder that results from the unexplained failure of the bone marrow to produce blood cells. The disease only affects an estimated two people per every million in the United States; however, her doctor immediately recognized the disorder. "You never forget that day of your life," Stephanie says. "We didn't know if there was a tomorrow."
Doctors said Stephanie needed a bone marrow transplant and they wanted to check immediate family members for a match. As the oldest of ten children the odds were in her favor. Doctors did find a match: Stephanie's five-year-old sister, Holly. Stephanie says she felt "absolutely confident," in her doctor's ability to treat her condition. "I was impressed that my doctor was able to diagnose such as rare disorder so quickly," she says. "I was sure he could provide every available resource to cure me."
Less than a month after the initial diagnosis, Stephanie began intensive chemotherapy to prepare for the transplant. "It all happened so fast that I really didn't have time to think about it," Stephanie says. "But, the thing I remember being most upset about was they told me I would be sterile."
Stephanie spent three weeks in a germ-free 'bubble-room,' a hospital bed that was literally surrounded by a plastic tent to prevent anything infectious from entering her body. "People who haven't been through it can't understand the weakness. My body was completely depleted," Stephanie says.
Then the devastating news: It didn't work. Because Stephanie's sister Holly had been so young, doctors feared to take out all the marrow from her hip that they needed. What they took hadn't been enough to support Stephanie's system.
Two years later, Stephanie and Holly began the process again. Facing a bone marrow transplant for the second time was difficult. "People don't understand that chemo has an effect on your body for a long time," Stephanie says. "Your life is on hold. You can't go out to a grocery store; you can't eat out in public places for fear that you will catch something."
This time, doctors took marrow from both Holly's hip and neck. "She really had a hard time," Stephanie says. "One day she even asked me since we matched if she would get sick."
But this time, the transplant was successful. Stephanie's body accepted the cells from Holly's bone marrow and she began to gain her strength, and her life back.
Stephanie knew it would be difficult to conceive, but says, "I never accepted it." She went to her gynecologist and asked him to test for ovulation. To her excitement, she ovulated normally. After a year, Stephanie says her doctor gave her permission to try. "We tried for several months, with no success," she said. "We told our family and close friends that we were going to stop trying and start traveling. But, sure enough, as soon as we said this, I became pregnant."
Now blessed with 3-year-old Christian and 7-month-old Cooper, Stephanie says their family motto is: "If it's meant to be." She says she is grateful for the medical staff at Intermountain Healthcare who provided hope and expertise and adds, "I wouldn't go anywhere else."