Transplant survivors gather to share tales

"Jo Ann Trautman has fought hard for her life, and delights in being able to say she is a survivor.Trautman, along around 500 other bone marrow transplant recipients, are gathering this week for a reunion at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. There will be a great deal of sharing stories, special visits from the doctors and nurses who treated the patients, and reliving memories on the moments that were geared toward saving their lives.Trautman, a Port Orchard resident, was diagnosed five years ago, at the age of 44, with leukemia. This was a real wakeup call for me, she said, knowing that things don't go on forever.Having leukemia also gave fher riends and family a whole new meaning. At the time, there wasn't a lot Trautman could change about her situation, but she decided to quit her three-hour a day commute back and forth to the Bethel School District in Tacoma, and she took a position as principal at Hidden Creek Elementary School in the South Kitsap School District.Trautman credits her family for being loving and supportive during her search for a donor. My husband was the primary caregiver, she said, and it was tough because I had to live 30 minutes from Swedish Hospital in an apartment. This was due to the fact that 50 percent of transplant victims end up needing to come back to the hospital. According to Trautman, the apartment had to be cleaned daily to prevent infections.She calls her husband the liquid police. He had to make sure I had a 100 ounces of liquid, drive me to appointments, draw blood, and monitor my medications, she said.Most of all, Trautman said, it was hard not to be there for her daughter, who was a senior in high school at the time. I couldn't participate in her soccer season, she said.Trautman also vividly remembers her daughter came by with her prom date, to visit her in the hospital.Because none of Trautman's family could be a bone marrow donor and because of the cost of the apartment, her medical bills were piling up. Trautman said, I didn't have any family members who were a match. We had to switch and look for an outside donor, which wasn't covered by our insurance, plus our living expenses. That was where Bethel School District came in to help, since Trautman had been principal at one of the district's schools. The district raised $20,000 to benefit Trautman by doing a letter-writing campaign to the Washington Association of School Principals, and the Washington Association of School Administrators.It took until April 1998 before Trautman finally had a bone marrow match - and the donor, Linda Cassidy, came from halfway around the world, in England. Cassidy and Trautman had corresponded and talked on the phone a few times, and that's when Cassidy decided to come out and visit Jo Ann and her family. Trautman recalled, She came to Hidden Creek Elementary School, and it was wonderful for all the people who helped me through it. We're still in contact.Five years later, Trautman is now healthy, thanks to her transplant. Every year she has a tradition with the fourth grade class at Hidden Creek Elementary School. She has them read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, (a story based in Hiroshima about a young girl with leukemia), and tells them a little about the medical procedures she endured for a bone marrow transplant. I bring in my hats and talk about losing my hair, Trautman said.She is now raising her son's child, who one of her friend's claims, is the reason she survived. Her daughter Megan has graduated from Seattle University with a degree in medical technology, and now works for the University of Washington at Fred Hutchinson Research Center, in Hepatitis B research. Trautman says, It's amazing that she would end up working in the same place I was treated."

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