Daughter Donates Stem Cells to Honor Dad’s Successful Transplant

Lauren Marsden. Don Marsden, Kraft Center, stem cell transplant
Lauren Marsden, second from left, became a stem cell donor following her father’s successful transplant.

Lauren Marsden joined DKMS/Delete Blood Cancer Registry during freshman orientation at St. Anselm’s College for the same reason she majored in nursing: She wanted to help others. What she couldn’t foresee then was how this decision would intersect with her own family’s experience.

Two months after Lauren’s graduation in May 2014, her father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Don Marsden required a stem cell transplant as part of his treatment at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), and Lauren’s clinical acumen and knowledge of the procedure made her an invaluable confidant during the radiation and chemotherapy that preceded his transplant, as well as the long recovery after it.

Lauren Marsden. Don Marsden, stem cell transplant, donor
Lauren and Don at her graduation.

Then this spring, six years after Lauren first signed up to be on the registry, she received a call. “They told me I was a match for someone who needed a stem cell transplant, and asked if I still was willing to donate,” says Lauren, 24. “Of course I said yes right away.”

The call came on May 6, 2016 – her father’s 63rd birthday.

“After all we had been through,” says Kelly Marsden, Lauren’s mother and Don’s wife of 30 years, “it was like everything was coming full circle.”

On July 5, returning to the DF/BWCC campus where she had often accompanied her father, Lauren entered the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center to make her lifesaving donation. Any parent would be proud under such circumstances, but for Don – who continues to receive care under Robert Schlossman, MD  – it was especially meaningful.

“I know what the procedure is like, and I know how important it is,” says Don, who estimates he was sick “five days in 38 years” working for UPS at Boston’s Logan Airport. “It was tough for me to accept my diagnosis. Lauren was a great help to me, and now hopefully she’ll be a great help to someone else.”

Although Lauren has an older brother and sister, she claims that she’s most like her dad. “We have a special connection; we’re both sarcastic and tell it like it is,” she says.

Their dry sense of humor extends to dealing with health challenges. Don’s wife is also a nurse, and it was she who gave her husband and daughter some of the shots both needed in the days leading up to their respective procedures.

“If she was angry on a certain day, she took it out on the patient,” jokes Don, to which his wife Kelly responds, “They liked to commiserate about my technique.”

Lauren Marsden, Don Marsden, stem cell transplant, donor
Lauren and her father at the finish of an obstacle race.

The Marsdens praise the care Don and Lauren have received at DF/BWCC, where staff are touched by the family’s unique story. “It was a wonderful way for Lauren to honor her dad’s experience, and help someone else with her selfless act,” says Kraft Center nurse Rachel Beaver, RN, BSN, a member of Lauren’s stem cell donation team. “We hope her recipient does as well with her gift of life as her father has.”

Depending on specific registry guidelines, stem cell donors and recipients must wait at least one year before they can request to learn each other’s identity, but the Marsdens do know that the recipient of Lauren’s cells is a woman in her 50s from the United Kingdom. That’s where Don’s father was born, so the family sees it as a happy coincidence.

Learn more about becoming a stem cell (bone marrow) donor and the transplant process. You can also make a lifesaving gift for cancer patients by donating blood or platelets at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center.

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