By Maria Gallegos, BAMCMarch 18, 2013
Air Force Tech Sgt. Kenneth Raimondi was on top of the world with13 years of successful active duty service and a happy marriage with two healthy, young active boys --until a year ago when he was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that changed his life forever.
"In the summer of 2011, I was feeling fatigued, I didn't know why -- but strangely enough -- even after a long nap I was still feeling tired," he said. "Then one day in August, as I was putting on my flip-flops to go water my grass I noticed strange little red dots on my feet, ankles and legs."
Realizing these symptoms were abnormal and reading the warning symptoms on the Internet, Raimondi immediately made an appointment to see his primary care physician at Randolph Clinic, who referred him to San Antonio Military Medical Center to see a hematology/oncology specialist.
On September 2011, Raimondi was diagnosed with aplastic anemia - a blood disorder where the bone marrow does not produce enough new cells to replenish old cells.
Within days of the diagnosis and his condition becoming severe, he underwent a series of antithymocyte globulin (ATG) infusions, to increase the number of healthy cells. The treatment showed some improvement but not enough to recover the normal blood cell counts.
"In my case, my blood cell count never recovered and I spent about six months with my platelets still in the low numbers and my blood cells low -- overall not on good grounds," said Raimondi. "And about six months out I have made a decision to receive the bone marrow transplant."
In March 2012, Raimondi underwent a bone marrow transplant here at the Fisher House Bone Marrow Transplant program. Six months later he returned to work and is enjoying his life once again.
"I get to tell my little boys, 'I'm 100 percent' (referring to his current level of health) -- you should have seen the smile on their faces," he gleamed.
"The care received here (at SAMMC bone marrow transplant department) has been amazing and definitely world class. You feel so much more comfortable here than anywhere else because you are one of maybe three, four, or five patients," said Raimondi.
"The medical teams are an expert staff, most of them have been doing this for a very long time and they really care about you and your family. A big part of getting healthy is having that positive momentum you get from here … you get very personable care here," he added.
SAMMC's Bone Marrow Transplant Program
The Fisher Bone Marrow Transplant Program was first established and housed at Wilford Hall Surgical Ambulatory Center in 1983 until June 2011 when its facility moved to SAMMC due to the Base Realignment and Closure.
SAMMC's BMT is the only treatment center designated by the Department of Defense for adult allogeneic (related donor, unrelated donor and cord blood) and one of two DOD facilities providing autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplants, (stem cells are removed from the patient and then later introduced back into the body enabling healthy cells to regenerate).
The new 21,222-square-foot BMT unit is located on the 5th floor of the consolidated tower and includes 14 private inpatient beds, 8 treatment stations, 3 examination/isolation rooms and 2 procedure rooms.
Because patients who undergo chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant may have compromised immune systems, their hospital surroundings are strictly managed to prevent infection. All rooms are outfitted with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to keep the air constantly in motion.
"We have a beautiful new home," said Stephanie Condron, head nurse of hematology/oncology service and the oncology clinical nurse specialist. "Our team was heavily involved with the design of the clinic to ensure that every feature was custom built for our patients."
The inpatient unit in conjunction with the outpatient clinic offers 24/7 staffing to ensure appropriate support for patients undergoing treatment and two nurses stations to provide convenient and safe access to patient rooms.
"All nursing staff has received chemotherapy and bone marrow training in order to provide comprehensive care in accordance with Oncology Nursing Society standards to the patients," said Stephania Godbee, head nurse of the inpatient BMT unit.
The Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT) accredited BMT Program comprised of outpatient clinic and inpatient unit provides full service care to patients with a multi-disciplinary team consisting of a clinical dietician, medical social worker, clinical nurse specialist, transplant coordinator, fellows, residents, nurses, students and staff physicians.
SAMMC BMT treats all TRICARE beneficiaries worldwide and all costs are paid by DOD to include travel and medical expenses for allogeneic transplant patients. Autologous transplant patients' per diem is paid by their active duty command or TRICARE non-medical attendant policy.
"All active duty military members and their families are eligible to get their transplant here, if they choose to come here, and their per diems can be paid up to $3,000 a day for three months," said Condron.
Registered donors can help save lives
Active duty military member and their Families, DOD civilian employees, Coast Guard members, and National Guard and Reserve personnel are eligible to register to donate. Potential donors should be 18-60 years old and in good general health.
"Donors are very important because many patients only have one possible donor --these transplants are not an optional procedure, it is not routine," said Condron. "When a patient needs a transplant from a donor like a sibling or from a stranger - it's often the only chance they have to live -without a donor, that patient is likely going to die."
According to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) everyone who is willing to volunteer is welcome; however, there is a critical need for more multi-race donors and those of various ethnic backgrounds to help the many patients searching the NMDP registry. One of the NMDP's goals is to ensure that every patient has the best chance of finding an unrelated marrow donor. Currently, African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latinos, American Indians and all multi-race donors are extremely under-represented on the NMDP Registry.
"Donors from all backgrounds are vital, especially anyone who has multi-racial background, or any minority generic background. You only match within your own race. Therefore, these special recruits are critical for our minority patients," she added.
For more information about the donor registration and SAMMC's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, please contact SAMMC BMT at 210-916-1198. To follow Tech Sgt. Kenneth Raimondi's journey through his bone marrow transplant, go to http://www.facebook.com/MyNewBirthday.