Leukemia Patient Meets Her Bone Marrow Donor | Loyola Medicine
Sunday, September 13, 2015

23-year-old leukemia survivor meets bone marrow donor who saved her life

Leukemia survivor Emily Dziedzic (right), 23, met her bone marrow donor, Joshua Riggs, 20, at Loyola Medicine’s 27th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Celebration of Survivorship. The event at Loyola University Medical Center's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center drew hundreds of patients, family members and caregivers.

MAYWOOD, IL – Leukemia survivor Emily Dziedzic was overcome with emotion Sunday when she met a young man from Oklahoma who saved her life by donating his bone marrow.

Ms. Dziedzic, 23, met her donor, Joshua Riggs, 20, in front of about 400 patients, family members and caregivers during the 27th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Celebration of Survivorship at the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola University Medical Center.

Ms. Dziedzic is the second person whose life Mr. Riggs has saved. When he was 8 years old, Mr. Riggs received a police department heroism award after saving a baby from drowning in a swimming pool.

“I like to help people,” Mr. Riggs said. “I’m excited to meet her, and to see what she plans to do now that she has her whole future again.”

Ms. Dziedzic, a dental assistant, lives in south suburban Worth. Now that she’s healthy again, her future plans include traveling to all 50 states (she’s been to 25 so far). And she would love to go to Australia.

In 2012, Ms. Dziedzic was diagnosed with an unusual case of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML is uncommon before age 45; the average patient age is 67, according to the American Cancer Society.

After an initial round of chemotherapy, Ms. Dziedzic went into remission. When the leukemia came back, Ms. Dziedzic’s only hope was a bone marrow transplant.

Before the transplant, Ms. Dziedzic received high-dose chemotherapy. In the process of killing cancer cells, the chemo also killed her immune system cells. So she would need an infusion of bone marrow cells, which develop into healthy new immune system cells.

Ms. Dziedzic’s brother and sister were willing to donate, but they did not match. So Ms. Dziedzic’s oncologist, Tulio Rodriguez, MD, searched the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match® registry. Mr. Riggs, who had signed up for the registry, was a close match.

When he was asked to donate, he readily agreed.

“I’ve given blood since I was 16,” he said. “This was another opportunity to help someone.”

At Mr. Riggs’ local hospital, a physician used a needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of his pelvic bone. Mr. Riggs said it hurt the next day, and he was sore for a week, but was glad to do it.

Dr. Rodriguez said Mr. Riggs saved Ms. Dziedzic’s life.

“Despite all the technology we employ, we still rely on the good intention of donors,” he said.

Patrick Stiff, MD, director of the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, said he continually is amazed that donors such as Mr. Riggs “are willing to go through a potentially painful procedure to save the life of someone they have never even met.”

And Mr. Riggs said he would do it again.

Loyola has treated more leukemia patients with bone marrow transplants than any other center in Illinois, and has one of the largest unrelated donor transplant programs in the world. Loyola receives referrals from throughout the Midwest, including from other academic medical centers in Chicago. 


About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.