PORTLAND, Ore. - Pete Nissila has been a patient at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland since Aug. 5. The former owner of Nissila Greenhouse in Ripley, who was diagnosed with Acute Meyloid Leukemia in July of 2010, underwent a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) transplant three days after he was admitted.
"It's basically like a blood transfusion; it took about 20 minutes," he said of the treatment process during a phone interview Tuesday. "I'm feeling pretty good overall, but very, very tired."
Pete's wife Jill Nissila said they were provided with a matching PBSC donor through the Be the Match Registry, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
In this Oct. 7, 2010, file photo, Rebekah Kasprzak, a medical records coder at Portage Health, swabs the inside of her cheek at the hospital as part of her registration to be a bone marrow donor.
"Pete had multiple donors match," she said. "They had enough choices that the doctors could pick the best match."
According to the official Be the Match website, patients need donors who are a genetic match and between the ages of 18 and 60. Doctors worldwide utilize the Be the Match Registry to find matches, who when they're selected, may be asked to donate bone marrow or cells from circulating blood.
Jill said the form of leukemia Pete has, AML, is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow in which the marrow produces immature blood cells called blasts.
"When he was diagnosed, he had six times the normal rate of white blood cells and most of those were blasts," she said, explaining the underdeveloped cells are unable to fight infections. "The other cells couldn't do what they needed to do."
In terms of kitchen measurements, the amount of stem cells doctors said Pete needed, amounted to just over a third of a cup, Jill said.
"It was a minimum of 450 million and up to one billion stem cells," she said. "They figure it out by your body weight."
However, before Pete could have the transplant, he had to have chemotherapy treatments to kill off any existing unhealthy cells.
"Basically they were destroying my immune system so when the donor's (cells) are put back into me, there's room for them in my bone marrow," he said. "It's quite an amazing process."
A close friend of the Nissilas, Julie Crowl of Hancock, is founder and chair of the Copper Country Marrow Registry. The CCMR was created in 2006 to help find matches for area residents needing a bone marrow transplant. After its inception the organization established a permanent account with the Be the Match foundation.
Crowl said the CCMR held a marrow drive for Pete in October of 2010 and collected 161 new registrants, who were asked to swab the inside of their cheek and fill out paperwork.
To date, she said, the CCMR has collected more than 300 registrants locally.
Crowl said they also set up a CCMR community fund, which individuals are welcome to make monetary donations to by sending it to Copper Country Marrow Registry P.O. Box 584 Hancock, MI 49930.
"That way, if someone came to us, needing a transplant or needing a marrow drive, we can hit the ground running," she said.
While family members are the best matches, Crowl said the next best option is finding someone who is ethnically similar to the patient, which is why the CCMR is important in the community.
"We have such a high concentration Finnish and northern European," she said. "I feel really convicted this serves as a service to our community to have this donor bank."
John Haeussler, who is also involved with the CCMR, found out he was a match for a young boy when he was contacted by the NMDP in 2005.
"They don't tell you very much (about the recipient)," he said. "You get the gender and a rough age, but you don't know who they are."
Haeussler said he was asked to make a bone marrow donation - a surgical procedure in which doctors use needles to extract liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone.
The following year, he was contacted again for the same recipient, who the second time around, needed PBSCs.
Haeussler said a PBSC donation was much less invasive, however, he was required to have daily injections of filgrastim, a drug that increases blood-forming cells in the bloodstream, for five days before he donated.
"They take the blood out of one arm, spin it and separate the cells they're looking for and then put the rest of the blood back into the other arm," he said of the process.
Haeussler said each party involved in the donation process is asked to fill out a form either agreeing or disagreeing to pass information about themselves onto the other.
"You have to wait a year before you can find out any information between the donor and the recipient," he said. "I have been in contact with my recipient."
Knowing he was able to help someone, especially a young person, was gratifying for Haeussler.
"I had a healthy 1-year-old daughter," he said. "I can't even imagine what that family had went through."
Pete, who has been in remission since August of 2010, said he is expected to be released from the hospital early next week, however, it's still a long road to healing.
"Because my immune system has been brought down to nothing, and has to be built back up, I'm going to be in a semi-quarantine for the next three months," he said. "I can't go to malls, movie theaters, anywhere there's a lot of people."
In addition, he said he has to make regular check-up visits to the hospital every two to three days.
"This is a long-term procedure," he said, adding friends and family have helped keep their spirits up by sending cards and even paying a visit. "We are very grateful for the support from our friends in the Copper Country. They've gone above and beyond being a great friend."
For more information, visit Be the Match at marrow.org.