Dedicated to Care and Success

A team-oriented approach drives the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program

Cancers of the blood, marrow, and lymph nodes—the various leukemias, lymphomas, and myelomas that together are called hematological malignancies—can be stealth diseases.

Focus article photo

Ken Meehan, MD, directs the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. "We take great pride in our team-oriented approach," he says.

"About half the patients we talk with, after their diagnosis, say they feel totally healthy," says Ken Meehan, MD, director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program (BMT Program) at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. "They have a difficult time believing they face a life-threatening condition."

Once they come under the care of the BMT Program, these patients are adopted by a very special team—a team fully dedicated to their care and success. "I believe we have an extremely high-quality, patient-friendly program. We take great pride in our team-oriented approach," comments Dr. Meehan. "Each member takes ownership of what we do here. We have great communication flow—we're not working in silos. We're each vested in the whole approach."

"Transplantation is an intense process for the patient for about three months," Dr. Meehan explains. "Naturally, all patients want to get back to normal as soon as possible. Overall, that takes at least six months. But once they're our transplant patients, they remain our patients. We follow patients for years. They're part of the family."

Patients agree. "Dr. Meehan and Elizabeth Kimtis, APRN, are two of the most professional, kindest, understanding, and easy-to-talk-to medical staff I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with," one patient wrote to the BMT Program following her treatment. "They're willing to spend real time with the patients. DHMC is very fortunate to have them on its staff."

Consistency of Care

Transplant patients are referred to Norris Cotton Cancer Center by physicians in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York. Dr. Meehan believes his team's connection to the special qualities of northern New England is important to patients. "We know this area, its culture, and its people because we are part of it too," he says. "Our physicians and nurses were educated and trained at some of the best schools in the world, and they came here because we offer a world-class facility in combination with a wonderful lifestyle. Our staff doesn't turn over like what happens at some big city hospitals, because we love it here so much and want to stay."

Today the BMT Program performs more than 50 transplants a year. The transplant itself involves intensive treatment for 21 days. Whenever possible, the treatments are made on an outpatient basis so patients are able to rest and recover in familiar surroundings. Those who stay in the hospital for the 21-day treatment period are accommodated in nine patient rooms specifically designated for BMT, with each room featuring privacy, comfortable furniture for guests, and entertainment centers (with a music system, television, and DVD player).

"Our patients receive consistency of care from top to bottom," says practice manager Sue Webber, MS. "In addition to our four dedicated transplant physicians and our nurse practitioners and coordinators, we have a staff dietitian and a dedicated social worker who make sure the patient and family receive all of the information they need to return to their full lives after their time with us."

Northern New England's One and Only

Blood and marrow transplantation—the infusion into the body of bone marrow or blood stem cells—offers patients the chance for a cure or for extended remission of hematological malignancies. High doses of cancer-attacking chemotherapy usually destroy the body's ability to generate blood cells, but after a blood stem cell transplant the body regains its ability to produce new blood cells.

There are two kinds of bone marrow transplant, and both are performed at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. For an autologous transplant, the patient's own blood stem cells are collected before chemotherapy and then returned after treatment. For an allogeneic transplant, cells are collected from another person who matches the patient's blood chemistry profile. Often that person is a family member or relative, but sometimes the best donor is found through a search of a national database of people willing to donate blood stem cells or marrow. The blood stem cells are frozen and stored until it is time to infuse them into the patient's body.

The BMT Program is the only National Marrow Donor Program transplant center in northern New England and is recognized as a specialized center for transplants from unrelated donors.

The BMT Program at the Cancer Center dates back to 1984, and it received a big boost in 2002 when Dr. Meehan was recruited from Georgetown University to direct the staff and facility. He oversaw the development of an outstanding team, finding physicians and nurses with a passion for both transplantation and patient care.

July 15, 2010