Reunion Draws Young Bone Marrow Transplant Survivors

July 26, 2006
News Office: Phyllis Brown (415) 502-6397

When Cheryl Scharf’s son, Nick, was 6 months old she repeatedly told her pediatrician that the baby was always sick.

The doctor dismissed her concerns but her cousin was a liver transplant nurse and knew that something was terribly wrong. She told Cheryl to take her son to UCSF Children’s Hospital. He was admitted same day.

Nick had severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome (SCID) and in July of 1988 received a bone marrow transplant that saved his life. But you wouldn’t know it to look at him now. Sporting a San Francisco Giants baseball cap, the 19-year-old is a student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and plans to major in fine arts.

"I’m very grateful," Cheryl Scharf said. "The experience and care at UCSF was fabulous and, of course, my son is alive."

On June 17, the Sharfs shared a picnic lunch — and stories of how the UCSF Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program changed their lives — at the first Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion and Picnic, held at the Marinwood Community Center in San Rafael.

The event was attended by more than 100 people, including bone marrow transplant recipients and their families. It was the first such major reunion in more than 20 years.

"Every one of those patients would not have been there [at the picnic] if they hadn’t had a transplant," said Dr. Mort Cowan, chief of the Bone Marrow Transplant Division at UCSF Children’s Hospital and a professor of pediatrics. "They all had fatal diseases. To see all of the successes like that in one location is a pretty emotional experience. What could be any more heartwarming than that?"

Pioneering Transplant Program

UCSF’s Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program was started in 1982. During the past 24 years, more than 600 transplants have been performed at UCSF Children’s Hospital. In 1982, UCSF performed the first partially matched bone marrow transplant on the West Coast, using bone marrow from a parent for a child with a severe immunodeficiency disease.

Today, UCSF is a leader in special treatment options for children with primary immunodeficiency diseases, marrow failure syndromes, genetic diseases, cancers and other life-threatening illnesses.

Bone marrow transplants can be lifesaving treatments for children who have cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma as well as diseases of the immune system, aplastic anemia that occurs when bone marrow stops producing new blood cells, inherited diseases of the bone marrow such as sickle cell anemia and some metabolic diseases.

Transplants involve replacing diseased marrow with healthy marrow injected into the bloodstream via an intravenous tube. The marrow may come from a healthy donor or healthy stem cells.