Nurse donates bone marrow for leukemia patient

At Cohen Children's Medical Center, Abigail Slaven, RN, has seen the positive outcomes of bone marrow transplants. Now, she's contributing to the effort.

The past few weeks have been exciting yet surreal for Abigail Slaven, RN. 

A bone marrow transplant nurse for more than 20 years, Ms. Slaven has watched sick children have the procedure and rebound into very productive lives. This time, though, she was a part of the process.

On November 6, Ms. Slaven donated 1,400 cubic centimeters of bone marrow at North Shore University Hospital for an unknown adult leukemia patient. Despite some pain and a little fatigue from the procedure, Ms. Slaven already felt the rewarding impact of her generous act.

“I would do it again,” she said. “It’s very hard to match someone. Usually, you are a complete stranger.

“I hope others become part of the (bone marrow) registry. It could be the only option in saving someone’s life.”

Donating life

Ms. Slaven, assistant nurse manager of pediatric hematology/oncology at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, initially thought about donating bone marrow during a blood drive at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in 2016. The National Marrow Donor Program was there, advertising its Be the Match campaign.

A regular blood donor, Ms. Slaven hadn’t considered donating marrow — until then. Her experience working at Cohen Children’s certainly influenced her decision.

“We get to know our patients and their families very well,” said Ms. Slaven, a Los Angeles native who met her husband, Christian, while working as a visiting nurse at Huntington Hospital. “It’s a very interesting type of nursing, really rewarding in fact. We have good outcomes.”

A cotton swab of the inside of her cheek and Ms. Slaven was on the bone marrow registry.

“I got a phone call in August (2017) that I matched someone,” she said. “You don’t get any info. They just ask if you are still willing to donate. For a split second, you think “wow, this is pretty crazy.’ I’ve seen the (bone marrow) harvest before. I was frightened, but at the same time, as a nurse you are part of saving lives each day.”

Ms. Slaven completed the required blood work and physical examination to schedule her donation.

"It actually was all through Northwell,” she said of the process. “It was interesting. Now I am a patient and went to Monter Cancer Center for another physical exam and blood work. Ten days later I had the procedure in Manhasset."

During her procedure, Ms. Slaven went under general anesthesia and doctors removed the bone marrow from two areas in her hips. She then spent six hours in recovery due to being anemic. 

"I felt pretty cruddy for a few days, but it wasn’t bad at all,” she said. “It took me about a week to feel completely normal again."

Ms. Slaven at Cohen Children's.

What's next?

Ms. Slaven is scheduled to follow-up with her doctors this week to review her blood counts. Full recovery is three weeks, but she’s already feeling better. 

She said she will get an update on the leukemia patient who received her marrow in nine months and could potentially meet her in a year, a meeting she’s willing to take. She’s also now dedicated to encouraging others to donate marrow.

"This was a unique opportunity,” she said. “No one else in this world could help this person. And if she didn’t get the transplant she could die…I hope and pray that she survives and is well."

Adults ages 18-44 can join the "Be the Match" registry.