MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Ann Marie Del Fiacco, a 38-year-old Berwyn mother of two, owes her life to a stranger who volunteered to be a donor for her life-saving bone marrow transplant.
On Sunday, Sept. 12, Del Fiacco met her donor, Brad Tacy, for the first time during the annual bone marrow transplant celebration at Loyola's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center. Del Fiacco underwent a successful bone marrow transplant at the Bernardin Center for an especially aggressive form of leukemia.
"I can't believe what he did for me. I'm a total stranger," Del Fiacco said. "He's my angel. He saved my life."
Tacy, 30, flew in from his home in Virginia, along with his wife, Lisa, and his 2-month-old son, Noah. He met Del Fiacco, her husband, Jeff, and her sons, Michael, 17, and Gino, 12.
Dr. Patrick Stiff, director of the Bernardin Cancer Center, said Tacy "is a hero, like the fireman who pulls a person out of a burning building. Because he donated his cells, Ann Marie is alive today."
Tacy said he was inspired to become a donor after seeing his boss' 10-year-old son undergo a successful bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Tacy said he feels "incredibly happy" for Del Fiacco. "Anyone else in my situation would have done the same thing."
Del Fiacco's first symptom of leukemia was unusual fatigue -- by 6 p.m., she would be asleep on the coach. That was followed by two ear infections and a frightening episode that felt like a heart attack.
"Her case was very difficult," said her physician, Dr. Tulio Rodriguez. "The odds were against her."
Prior to the bone marrow transplant, Del Fiacco underwent two days of high-dose chemotherapy and four days of whole-body radiation. In the process of killing cancer cells, the chemotherapy and radiation also killed her immune system cells. To compensate, Del Fiacco received an infusion of Tacy's bone marrow cells. These donated cells developed into healthy new immune system cells.
For a transplant to succeed, the patient needs a close match. Del Fiacco's two sisters offered to donate, but they did not match. So Rodriguez went to the National Marrow Donor Program, which has more than 8 million donors in its Be the Match Registry®. Tacy was a perfect match.
To retrieve cells from Tacy, a doctor inserted a needle in his pelvis and drew out marrow. Tacy said that afterward, it felt like a harsh bruise -- "nothing too bad." He took a few days off work, but the hardest part was not being able to play basketball for a month.
Del Fiacco underwent the transplant in April 2005. She spent four weeks in the hospital, then another three months at home in isolation while her immune system was regenerating. During that time, Del Fiacco could not be around her children for fear they could give her infections. She would talk to them on the telephone or wave to them outside.
Today, Del Fiacco is cancer-free, and Rodriguez said she essentially is cured.
"I feel great and I am blessed," she said.
Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.