Leukemia survivor to meet donor of bone marrow transplant

Ann Marie Del Fiacco, a 38-year-old Berwyn mother of two, owes her life to a stranger who volunteered to be a donor for her life-saving bone marrow transplant.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, Del Fiacco will meet her donor, Brad Tacy, for the first time. The meeting will occur at 2 p.m. at Loyola's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, 2160 S. First Ave., Maywood, where Del Fiacco underwent a successful bone marrow transplant for an especially aggressive form of leukemia.

"I can't believe what he did for me. I'm a total stranger," Del Fiacco said. "He's my angel. He saved my life."

Tacy, 30, is flying in from his home in Virginia, along with is wife, Lisa, and his 2-month-old son, Noah. He will meet Del Fiacco, her husband, Jeff, and her sons Michael, 17, and Gino, 12.

Dr. Patrick Stiff, director of the Bernardin Cancer Center, said Tacy "is a hero, like the fireman who pulls a person out of a burning building. Because he donated his cells, Ann Marie is alive today."

Tacy said he was inspired to become a donor after seeing his boss' 10-year-old son undergo a successful bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Tacy said he feels "incredibly happy" for Del Fiacco. "Anyone else in my situation would have done the same thing."

Del Fiacco's first symptom of leukemia was unusual fatigue -- by 6 p.m., she would be asleep on the coach. That was followed by two ear infections and a frightening episode that felt like a heart attack.

"Her case was very difficult," said her physician, Dr. Tulio Rodriguez. "The odds were against her."

Prior to the bone marrow transplant, Del Fiacco underwent two days of high-dose chemotherapy and four days of whole-body radiation. In the process of killing cancer cells, the chemotherapy and radiation also killed her immune system cells. To compensate, Del Fiacco received an infusion of Tacy's bone marrow cells. These donated cells developed into healthy new immune system cells.

For a transplant to succeed, the patient needs a close match. Del Fiacco's two sisters offered to donate, but they did not match. So Rodriguez went to the National Marrow Donor Program, which has more than eight million donors in its Be the Match Registry®. Tacy was a perfect match.

To retrieve cells from Tacy, a doctor inserted a needle in his pelvis and drew out marrow. Tacy said that afterward, it felt like a harsh bruise -- "nothing too bad." He took a few days off work, but the hardest part was not being able to play basketball for a month.

Del Fiacco underwent the transplant in April, 2005. She spent four weeks in the hospital, then another three months at home in isolation while her immune system was regenerating. During that time, Del Fiacco could not be around her children, for fear they could give her infections. She would talk to them on the telephone, or wave to them outside.

Today, Del Fiacco is cancer-free, and Rodriguez said she essentially is cured.

"I feel great, and I am blessed," she said.

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