Blood donors help cancer patient beat the odds

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Marti Hand's first sign of a problem, back in 2012, was a tired-to-the-bone kind of fatigue, which just wasn't like her.

"I was like, get with it," Hand remembers.  "I was really hard on myself back then."

It would take another 4 years for the Decatur former critical care nurse to learn why she was feeling so rundown.

In April of 2016, Hand was diagnosed with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (or CMML).

It's a cancer that begins in the blood-forming cells of our bone marrow, gradually invading the blood.  

In Hand's case, it progressed quickly.

Within days, she was told she'd developed acute myeloid leukemia or AML.

"I was stunned, really, when I got the diagnosis," Hand remembers.  "My husband was stunned."

Hand's one and only chance for a cure was a stem cell transplant at Northside Hospital's Blood and Marrow Transplant unit.

But first, she needed two cycles of powerful chemotherapy to destroy her bone marrow.

Along the way, they had to find a stem cell donor, typically a sibling.

"It happened to be my brother," Hand says.  "He was a 100 percent match."

The chemo wiped out Hand's cancer, but also her normal blood cells, and her immune system.

So, she needed constant blood transfusions before and after her transplant.

"I needed red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma, and lots and lots of platelets," she says.

Platelets, which help the blood clot, are especially critical for patients like Hand.

Atlanta Blood Services, which supplies Northside Hospital, collected about 6,000 units of platelets in 2018,

and about 80 percent went to cancer patients. 

The average leukemia/lymphoma patient will need 30-50 units of platelets during treatment.

For Hand, the transfusions were everything.

"It was like I was given a new life," she says.  " My energy level returned, I was able to do short walks without being short of breath, take a shower without being short of breath."

Just under 5 percent of Americans donate blood regularly, less than 2 percent donate platelets, which involves a 2 and half hour process known as apheresis. 

But, the need is constant. 

Platelets have a shelf life of just 5 days, and the supply during the summer vacation and winter flu season can drop critically low.

That's why Marti Hand is sharing her story.

"I think people who volunteer to donate blood do it out of the goodness of their heart, and that is their way of giving back to society," Hand says.  "But, I don't think they really think about the impact they have.  They are saving lives.  They are saving somebody's life! Whoever's blood I received, they saved mine."

To learn more about blood donation and sign up to donate, visit,