Stem Cell Collection or “Harvesting”

Today was “harvesting” day. We’re up early and over to HSC at 8am for the procedure. I’m ushered to an area with a couple of beds and and a number of interesting looking machines. I’m settled into place and given some “relaxing” medications.

I’m getting a lot of attention, with two nurses getting me set up for the procedure. I’m given two warm/hot packages to hold in each hand and another couple of hot packs are put on each arm. The reason is to relax the blood vessels in my arms to prepare for the IV insertion. These don’t appear to be your typical IV needles, they are quite large, about the size of a 2″ nail. With a nurse on each side of me they simultaneously insert the IVs into both arms. The theory is that one big poke is better that two separate pokes.

So what is stem cell collection all about anyway? There are several different ways and purposes for stem cell transplant. I’ve extracted the part that applies to me from the Canadian Cancer Society:

Stem cells from the peripheral blood

Blood does not normally have many stem cells. Growth factors, such as G-CSF or plerixafor, may be given for a few days to stimulate stem cells to grow faster and move into the blood from the bone marrow. (Five days of at home self-injection to make this happen 🙂 )

Removing stem cells from the blood is done through an IV (intravenous) line. An IV is placed in a large vein in the donor’s arm. The IV tubing is attached to a machine that separates and collects stem cells from the blood. After the stem cells are removed, the blood is returned to the donor. The process takes several hours and may need to be repeated once a day for a few days to collect enough stem cells for a transplant.

The collected stem cells are filtered, stored in bags and frozen until they are needed for a transplant.

The machine that does all this work is quite amazing, blood out my left arm, stem cells collected via a centrifuge and the remaining blood products are pumped back in to my right arm.

During the 4 hour procedure all of my blood was cycled through this machine twice!

Other that getting stabbed twice for the IV lines, the procedure was quite painless and due to the medication, most of the time I was dozing in and out. The collection volume and concentration of stem cells was successful. The next step is a meeting with the Doctor on June 4th and then the hospitalization which is tentatively set for June 9th.