Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 14, 2001

America's bloodiest day
Flight delays jeopardize bone marrow transplant

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer

At 8 this morning, after four days of delay and concern caused by Tuesday's terrorist attacks, Fern Ige will begin a surgical operation at St. Francis Medical Center to remove a pint of her life-saving bone marrow that will give a critically ill Mainland cancer patient a second chance.

Fern Ige, an Iolani School Japanese language teacher, was supposed to have a pint of her bone marrow removed on Tuesday. But when no flights were available to transport the marrow to the Mainland, the procedure was put on hold.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ige's perfect six-point match was confirmed in May, and the transplant operation scheduled for Sept. 11. But when the nation's airports closed down Tuesday, there was no way to get the donated marrow to the patient. The extraction was canceled, because living bone marrow can only be kept 48 hours.

"Time is of the essence," said the 48-year-old Iolani School Japanese language teacher, as she waited Wednesday for national and local bone marrow registries to find a solution or an emergency flight.

"Who would have thought that someone's hopes for a second chance would be dangling like this?"

The clock started ticking last week, when a 39-year-old Mainland woman (her identity is kept confidential to protect her privacy) began a final round of chemotherapy to kill her last cancerous white blood cells in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Doctors told Ige that this began a six-day "no-turning-back period."

Ige said she was told the patient is particularly vulnerable during this time, because the white blood cells that make up her immune system have all been destroyed, leaving her very susceptible to infection.

But Amy Burger, public relations coordinator for the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis said the transplant can still succeed.

"We are very aware of this and working with the transplant center," said Burger. "Every situation is being personally looked at and evaluated."

Since Tuesday the national donor network has been scrambling across the country to charter emergency military flights or send life-saving stem cells and marrow by ground courier for some of the 140 marrow transplants they coordinate nationally every month.

"We have activated emergency systems to make sure donors and patients are not affected by what is taking place," said Burger.

Where possible, marrow collections were being rescheduled, Burger said.

As the hours ticked by during the past three days, Renee Adaniya, who is coordinating the marrow donation from Ige through the Hawai'i Bone Marrow Donor Registry, hoped for the best.

"The sooner the better," she said. "We're sitting tight."

Ige is anxious to move forward with the surgery, even though it means anesthesia, numerous needle pricks to extract marrow from her pelvic bones, and several days of soreness and recovery.

"If it were someone in my family who needed bone marrow, I would hope someone would step forward and donate," she said. "So I would like to help this woman out."