Yale Hockey Star Mandi Schwartz Getting New Lease on Life
August will turn out to be, quite literally, the month of her life perhaps.
Schwartz, a 22-year-old member of the Yale women's hockey team, was diagnosed in 2008 with acute myeloid leukemia. She needed a stem cell transplant to survive and, for two years, a search to find an adult bone marrow match was unsuccessful.
This week it was announced that the blood of an 18-month old girl is enough of a match that, on Aug. 27, Schwartz, whose brother, Jaden, was the first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in June's NHL Draft, will undergo a cord blood transplant that will hopefully save her life.
Transplants of umbilical cord blood are used when an adult bone marrow donor can't be found. The match doesn't have to be exact, as is the case in bone marrow. In Schwartz's case, she and her donor's blood match on five of the six critical areas.
"I'm going to have a whole new immune system," Schwartz said Sunday morning prior to throwing out the first pitch before the Seattle Mariners-Kansas City Royals game at Safeco Field. "And I'm even going to be a new blood type. I'm A-negative and I'm going to be O-positive.''
Mostly, the new immune system will attack whatever remaining leukemia cells are left in her body after two years of chemotherapy and other treatments to keep Schwartz (pictured above with Mariners pitcher Doug Fister) alive.
"There are some risks,'' Schwartz's father, Rick, said. "But it's a blessing to have the cord blood match the way it has.''
Two months ago, Mandi Schwartz was bedridden, a nasty case of pneumonia attacking her while the search for a suitable donor went on. Those were some of her grimmest moments, struggling to breathe as her lungs tried to fight off the pneumonia.
She spent three days in intensive care while hooked up to oxygen because her breathing was so forced. For someone who had spent her life as an athlete able to test the limits of her body, it was a dark time.
"It's pretty scary when you can't stand up and you are struggling to breathe,'' she said. "Even when I'd go to sleep, I'd be struggling to breathe. It was a fight to get my lungs back working again.''
Schwartz and her family have been in Seattle since last month preparing for the surgery, which will take place at the University of Washington's Hutchinson Medical Center. For the most part, her five-days-a-week medical treatment leading up to the surgery is taking place at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
If all goes well, her new immune system will fight the remaining leukemia cells in her body. And sometime after that she'll be able to return to Yale for her final year, although it's too early to say whether she'll be able to play hockey at the same level as before the leukemia diagnosis.
"I can't imagine a life where I'm not working out, and I'd like to play (for Yale) again,'' she said. "But if not, I'll at least play at rec league hockey.''
Those are thoughts that weren't realistic even two months ago.
The Yale community, the hockey community and countless people Mandi Schwartz has never met have come to her aid. Over 1,600 people were tested to be possible bone marrow donors.
"It's impossible to thank all the people who have stepped up to help,'' Mandi Schwartz said. "They will never know how very thankful I am for everything they have done.''