Leukemia patient Allison Atlas, whose race against death in the last year was joined by 50,000 potential bone marrow donors around the world, appears to have had a successful transplant from her mother, doctors in Seattle announced this week.
The 20-year-old Bethesda resident was described as being "in good clinical condition," with no evidence of disease, as she was discharged Thursday from Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
"It's like a miracle," a family spokesman said yesterday. "We expect she still will have some periods where there is going to be some difficulty, but the worst is behind us." Doctors said it takes a minimum of six to nine months for the immune system to become fully normal.
Atlas received a transfusion of bone marrow from her mother, Arline Atlas, Aug. 9 after a fruitless, year-long search for a perfect match at 154 synagogues, community centers and other blood-testing sites in the United States, Canada and Israel.
An identical match between donor and patient of six major antigens is considered ideal, and generally is successful in 50 to 70 percent of the patients. Arline Atlas and her daughter match on four antigens.
The transplant was a last-ditch effort to save the increasingly weakened college student, who had learned a year earlier that she had myelodysplasia, a type of swift-striking "pre-leukemia" that rarely affects the young.
In the year since Atlas's disease was diagnosed, JoAnne Johnson, another Washington area resident whose search for a donor was highly publicized, succumbed before a donor could be found.
Hutchinson Center physician David Peace said in a statement Thursday that Allison Atlas's bone marrow graft "is well established and functions appropriately." Atlas will continue as an outpatient at the center for two months, and could return home toward the end of this year, doctors said.
The Atlas family search for an ideal donor cost at least $1.5 million, paid for by the family and by individual donations. Many of those who were tested also donated the $75 fee for testing along with their blood.
The campaign was buoyed by appearances by Atlas on national television programs such as "Donahue" and by articles in at least 60 newspapers across the country.
It paid off for other victims in search of donors, family spokesman Simon Atlas said yesterday. At least 15 people found potential matches as a result of the campaign, and others patients will continue to be matched "for years to come," he said.
"Every day, there are about 1,300 Allison Atlases searching for marrow donors, said Liz Quam, education director for the National Marrow Donor Program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. "Every day, they come up with a preliminary match."
The Friends of Allison organization was also instrumental in securing a $4.5 federal appropriation for bone marrow search and blood typing, the first major influx of money into such programs, Quam said.