A selfless act: From left, Attar, Atkins, Kristina LeVasseur, RN, and Cortright
The meeting of 50-year-old Erin Cortright with 28-year-old Carrie Atkins, surrounded by a team of MGH caregivers from the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, brought tears to many eyes. The story began more than two years ago, when Cortright – so sick with leukemia that she did not qualify for a stem cell transplant – was living in a New York hospice facility with little hope of recovery.
To the surprise of her medical team, Cortright recovered enough to seek the help of the MGH and met with Eyal Attar, MD, of the MGH Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. Attar suggested that his team treat Cortright using an experimental stem cell transplant usually used for patients who have achieved remission.
“She was only 50 years young, so vibrant and wanted so much to live,” says Attar. “We had nothing to lose and for her, everything to gain.”
Atkins had registered in 2001 as a stem cell donor while stationed at a Florida military base with the U.S. Air Force. As luck would have it, her sample was a perfect match for Cortright, and she soon found herself traveling to Washington, D.C., where her stem cells were procured.
“I was more than happy to help,” says Atkins. “Many people are under the misconception that this is a difficult surgical procedure, but it was easy. I had to be on medication for five days to increase my white blood cell count and then spent only one day as an outpatient, during which they took my blood and processed it through a machine to obtain only the right stem cells that might help Erin.”
The stem cell transplant took place at the MGH, and Cortright has been cancer-free for more than two years now. Only recently did the two women connect by telephone, and on Feb. 11, Cortright and Atkins shared a face-to-face meeting at the MGH with the medical team that helped bring Cortright back to good health.
“What she did was extraordinary, and I will be forever thankful,” says Cortright. “She is living proof that there are angels who walk among us here on earth. Thanks to the MGH team, Carrie and her gift of life, I am still here today.”
For information about the MGH Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, access www.massgeneral.org/cancer/team/bmt.aspx.