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Bone Marrow transplant cures cancer

Bone marrow transplants saved a 9 year old boy with cancer. The boys mother decided to raise awareness. In the U.S. alone, about 10.000 people need a stem cell transplant every year for cancer but other diseases as well. The problem is finding a donor.

The medical procedure is intense but can help those with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell or other blood diseases. These interventions can save lives but finding a donor can be challenging.

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Be The Match is a nonprofit, national registry where people can sign up to donate their stem cells. More than 35 million people around the world have volunteered — yet only a small percentage of those donors are Americans, and even the registry admits most Americans don’t know it exists.

The mother of a 12-year-old boy with leukemia has set out to change that. Mandy Goldman, a hairdresser with 4 children living outside Boston decided to change that. She remembers 5 years ago when doctors gave her the news the chemotherapy treatment didn’t work on her son, Mateo.

“They told us that our only option of curing Mateo was a bone marrow transplant,” Mandy said; a risky procedure that often involves a host of complications. But they had no other choice, she says. The family got to work on the monumental task — finding Mateo Goldman a good enough match.

In the Boston Globe, Linda Matchan first reported the family’s experience. She found very few people having awareness of the needs of bone marrow or stem cell. The campaign around the subject is severely lacking compared to others such as blood donations.

“For example, there’s a little boy right now in North Carolina named Thor Forte, who’s 10 and has sickle cell disease. And he has been waiting for literally half his life, five years, for a donor to be available,” Matchan says. “He’s a tough match, but they finally did find somebody. And then when the time came for the procedure, the person backed out. So two years later, the boy is still waiting.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/OWlF9iGoIoo?rel=0&wmode=transparent&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2F

Fortunately, after finding out Mateo Goldman didn’t match with anyone in his family, he paired with a donor from Germany. Mateo Goldman wrote Sütterlin, whose name he did not know at the time, a thank you note reading: “Dear Donor, thank you for giving me the bone marrow. You feel like you’re already part of my family,” he says.

And unlike usual Make-A-Wish requests, Mateo Goldman asked to meet Sütterlin in person halfway across the world. The visit was planned for 2020 however it was canceled due the Covid 19 situation.

Matchan had a trip planned for Germany back in 2019 so she ends up meeting Sütterlin where she heard how she became a donor. She said she found about it at a sporting event. Germany has a robust public service campaign to get citizens to donate bone marrow, Matchan says.

“Dear Donor, thank you for giving me the bone marrow. You feel like you’re already part of my family.”


“Just three months later, she got a call and an email from the registry saying that there is somebody in the United States for whom she could be a match and was asked if she would donate,” Matchan says. “A couple of days later, she went into the hospital and did the donation.”

The stem cells then made their way across the Atlantic, reaching the USA during a snowstorm. The cells started working for the young boy right away. He did however witness the graft-versus-host stiffness, a common side effect of the transplant.

“But, you know, Matteo’s an amazing kid,” she says, “so through it all, he was smiling and making the best of it, even though he was suffering for a lot of the time.”

Two years later, in July of 2020, the cancer came back. But since Mateo’s first transplant, medical science greatly evolved. So much so that his older brother, Leo Goldman, became a candidate to donate his cells for the second stem cell transplant.

“I didn’t realize how I could get my brother’s cells,” Mateo Goldman, now 12 years old, says. “Once that sank in, I felt that it would connect me and my brother more.”

Mateo Goldman's brother (right) visiting him in the hospital. (Photo by Mandy Goldman)
Mateo Goldman’s brother (right) visiting him in the hospital. (Photo by Mandy Goldman)

Right before Christmas last year, the family got extraordinary news: Mateo Goldman had “zero cancer in his bone marrow,” Mandy Goldman says.

Now the mom of four is on a campaign to raise awareness on stem cell donations.

“The amazing feeling Leo got from being able to be the person who saved his brother’s life is something he’s going to carry with him forever,” she says. “And even Laura [Sütterlin], she gave him three and a half years of his life that we get to spend with him. I just really want to educate people about how empowering it is to do something so incredible for somebody else.”

Upon talking to others for raising awareness, she shockingly finds out how fearful people are to becoming a donor.

If people could see the trauma these patients go through — her son had a drain placed in his stomach, total body radiation, chemotherapy that left him head-to-toe in a skin-burning rash — she says then maybe they wouldn’t be scared to dedicate a small action for someone whose only cure is through a stem cell transplant. The bone marrow transplant cured Mateo Goldman’s cancer.

“Once people are educated about how much of a difference it makes,” she says, “then I feel like they would do it.”


After Bone Marrow Donation Saves 9-Year-Old Boy With Cancer, Boston Mom Fights To Raise Awareness | Here & Now (wbur.org)

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