By Sam Rubin
Assistant Director of Sports Publicity, Yale University
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut – Yale ice hockey player Mandi Schwartz took the next big step in her battle with cancer: a 1,000-mile journey by motor home with her family from Saskatchewan to Seattle back home at the Pasqua Hospital in Canada, the next phase of her treatment will be overseen by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Several organizations, including the NCAA, have made appeals for a bone-marrow match to help Mandi in her battle.
Mandi has kept up her strength and spirit even while undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy in her fight with acute myeloid leukemia. She had a stationary bike brought into her room in the hospital so she could continue exercising. After she was discharged from Pasqua on July 11, she immediately put on her skates to play some “shinny” hockey with her brothers, Jaden and Rylan, and friends at the rink of her high school, Notre Dame.
“She was smiling from ear to ear,” said Mandi’s mother, Carol.
Mandi began her trip to Seattle on July 12. She traveled with her parents and fiancée, Kaylem Prefontaine, in a vehicle donated by Traveland RV in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“We are very happy to have this trip to enjoy some family time together, and we are very appreciative of the tremendous love and support of so many,” said Carol Schwartz.
“I want to thank everyone for their support and prayers, and I will see everyone again soon after a successful transplant,” said Mandi.
Mandi is battling acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that starts inside the bone marrow and grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells – cells of the immune system. She was first diagnosed in December 2008 and after multiple rounds of chemotherapy was declared to be in remission in spring 2009. She returned to Yale in January of this year and resumed practicing with the Yale women’s hockey team, but she was re-diagnosed in April and had to return home for chemotherapy.
At that point doctors determined that Mandi would need a stem cell transplant to survive, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance was chosen to oversee the transplant. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is a world-class treatment center that provides advanced therapies and clinical studies for cancers and other related diseases. It includes doctors from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
The chemotherapy that Mandi received in Saskatchewan has put her in remission, and she needs to be in remission to receive the stem cell transplant. A timeline for her transplant will be finalized by the doctors in Seattle.
The search for life-saving donors for the stem cell transplant Mandi needs to survive remains open. Her heritage – a mixture of German, Russian and Ukrainian – has made it challenging to find donors that are genetic matches. There are 16,000 leukemia patients diagnosed each year who cannot find a matching bone marrow donor. Partially-matched donors that can be used for Mandi’s transplant have been identified, but the search remains open in hopes of finding better matches.
The world-wide campaign to educate people about the importance of bone marrow donation and umbilical cord blood donation, “Become Mandi’s Hero,” continues. Mandi is one of thousands of patients with life-threatening illnesses worldwide who stand to benefit from the addition of new donors to the existing registries. For example, the bone marrow donor drive that Yale held in Mandi’s honor in 2009 wound up locating a Yale employee who donated life-saving stem cells to a patient with cancer in another country.
The Yale community is continuing to do its part to help. Mandi’s Yale teammates have been contacting obstetricians and gynecologists, along with expectant mothers, to encourage umbilical cord blood donations. They have focused on areas of the country with heavy German, Russian or Ukrainian populations. Cryobanks International, a cord blood banking company, has been working directly with Become Mandi’s Hero to facilitate cord blood donations.
Additionally, on July 6 and 7, former Yale hockey player Brennan Turner – a family friend of the Schwartzes – organized a 3-on-3 charity hockey tournament named “Match4Mandi” in Winnipeg to raise funds and awareness. Turner has also organized a series of bone marrow donor testing drives throughout Canada as part of CBC’s “PlayOn!” street hockey tournaments that have added thousands of potential donors to the registry.
These donors, both cord blood and adult bone marrow volunteers, are important in helping to save the lives of patients like Mandi who need a transplant.
Those interested in helping are encouraged to: