Tom Yahner is an associate professor in Penn State’s Department of Landscape Architecture. His life was forever changed when in November of 2006 he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a blood and bone marrow cancer that prevents myelogenous blood cells from maturing into normal white cells. Within the week he began treatment at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, which involved a treatment of chemotherapy specifically for destroy the leukemia cells in his bone marrow. His treatment included an intensive process designed to kill most of the leukemia cells called “induction” chemotherapy, followed by three to four cycles of “consolidation” chemotherapy to finish off any remaining leukemia cells.
Unfortunately, this process usually also destroys most of the bone marrow’s normal blood cells, which is where Yahner’s blood transfusions came in. “Five times my blood cells were destroyed by the chemotherapy and I was dependent upon donated blood to stay alive.”
After his leukemia returned ten months later, Yahner’s doctors determined that his best chance to survive was a stem cell transplant, which he received from his sister’s donation, and was given a form of chemotherapy strong enough that he likely wouldn’t be able to recover normal blood cell production on his own.
“Again, I was dependent upon donated blood to keep me alive while I waited for my transplanted stem cells to begin making blood,” Yahner said. “In all, donated blood saved my life six times through the course of my treatment.”
So what did blood really mean to Tom in his time of need?
“It meant everything, Yahner said. “Donated blood was an essential component of the treatment. Donated blood was as important as the chemotherapy drugs I received to destroy the leukemia cells. It was as important as the antibiotics and other drugs needed to prevent and treat infections when my immune system was compromised, and as important as the highly skilled medical personal and high quality facilities at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.”
Tom would go on to receive many more units of blood during his treatment and felt that he owed his life to every person who gave the gift of blood. Even though a leukemia diagnosis prevents him from donating in the future, after his experience, Yahner sees the simple act of donating blood from a whole new perspective.
“Every time I see a blood drive sign on campus I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the generosity of those who give blood,” Yahner said. “I also think of the people with diagnoses like mine who have the chance to survive a life threatening illness because of the generosity and compassion of those who donate blood.”