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By Kristen Cole     Date: 11/18/09 Bookmark and Share

Smith Bone Marrow Recipient Now Raising Awareness

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – During a recent blood drive in the Campus Center, Smith senior Anna Robinson volunteered at the food table helping donors regain their strength after giving blood.

Anna Robinson

If she couldn’t donate her own blood, Robinson reasoned, she could at least help those who do. Though Robinson would gladly have contributed, she learned three years ago just how unhealthy her own blood was.

The summer before her final year at Smith, Robinson’s return to campus was halted when she began feeling increasingly tired and dizzy, even after performing the mildest exercise. A doctor diagnosed Robinson, then 21, with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), in which cancerous leukemic cells were crowding out all of her healthy blood cells.

On Monday, Nov. 23, Robinson will tell her story on national television. She and her bone marrow donor, Katie Quinn, are slated to appear on the Today Show to promote awareness about the Bone Marrow Registry.

“I was more nervous for my engineering presentation than I am about the Today Show,” said Robinson, now 24, who returned to Smith this year to finish her engineering degree. “This will really be just talking about what I’ve been through.”

And, she added, people “need to know that bone marrow donation is not scary or painful.”

The Bone Marrow Registry connected Robinson, of Seattle, with Quinn, a nursing student at the University of Missouri, Columbia. The path that linked them began, appropriately, at a blood drive.

A few years ago, Quinn showed up at a blood drive in her area but was turned down because her iron level was too low. While heading out of the center, a volunteer asked if she would like to register for the Bone Marrow Registry. All that was required was a swab of the inside of her cheek.

Six months later, Quinn received a call and began taking the steps that would determine whether or not she was a match for an anonymous cancer patient – Robinson.

Robinson had already had one bone marrow transplant. Her younger sister, Becky, was a match, and had contributed her marrow in December 2006. In the end, Becky was too close of a match. Eight months after the transplant, Robinson relapsed.

“I received so many blood transfusions and platelet transfusions,” said Robinson, who was hospitalized for months at a time at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington Hospital undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

Every night that she was in the hospital, Robinson’s mother was there. Her father kept up life at the family’s home, feeding the cat and dog, bringing Anna fresh clothes.

Time rolled by, and all her Smith friends and classmates graduated. Additional professors were hired for the Picker Engineering Program and the college started and completed construction on a new sciences building.

The second bone marrow transplant – from Quinn – was scheduled for the fall of 2007. After an additional infusion of reserved donor T-cells in February 2008, and starting a new, experimental drug, the outcome was different. Robinson learned she was cancer-free.

A year later, she sent a letter through the Bone Marrow Registry to the anonymous donor with the news that the transplant had been a success. Both young women indicated they were willing to be contacted directly and a flurry of emails ensued.

In July, the bone marrow recipient met her donor.

Both young women have dark hair with red highlights, freckles, and English and Irish lineage. But their similarities now run much deeper — to the marrow, one might say, as they share bone marrow genetics.

This fall, Robinson returned to Smith and began her senior design clinic project. Her energy has not returned to the level it once was and her immune system is still compromised.

“When I got back the campus was familiar but all the faces are different,” recalled Robinson recently. “But this is where I wanted to come back to. I really wanted to come back and graduate from Smith.” And, she added, “I did something I wouldn’t have done three years ago – I helped out at the blood drive.”

Photo by Roberge

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