“I love the fact that I could be part of such a success,” said Benicia resident Dara Karl, the first multiple myeloma patient at UC Davis to receive a stem cell transplant without being hospitalized during the procedure.

Many blood cancers are resistant to standard doses of chemotherapy. Studies have shown that high doses of chemotherapy can eradicate many, if not all, cancer cells that are resistant to standard doses of chemotherapy. However, high doses will also damage the bone marrow and stem cells that reside within it. Stem cell transplantation, sometimes referred to as a bone marrow transplant, is a procedure in which a patient receives their own archived stem cells to allow them to recover from the effects of high doses of chemotherapy.

After the stem cells are infused into a patient’s bloodstream, they travel to the bone marrow and begin the process of forming new, healthy blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Lengthy hospital stays are no longer the only option for some stem cell transplant patients. The first patient to receive a transplant on an outpatient basis at UC Davis Health is back home and in remission.

A month following her stem cell transplant, Karl was told by her oncologist that her cancer was in deep remission. In fact, there was no sign of the cancer at all.

Karl said she doesn’t feel like a pioneer and she says she simply did, “what my doctors told me to do.” Karl, a widow who has two grown daughters — one a professor in Oklahoma and the other severely disabled with cerebral palsy at home — didn’t want to endure a typical three-week stay in a hospital for the transplant procedure. Her sister, Deb Deans, was by her side through it all as the two relaxed, following the procedure, in the comforts of the Marriott Hotel on the UC Davis Health campus.

Stemcell patient eating a meal
First outpatient stem cell transplant patient Dara Karl

“Delicious meals were brought to us by hospital staff and we were able to have some of our own diet-compliant snacks thanks to the room having a kitchenette,” said Karl. “It certainly was a lot better than being in a hospital room, with the sounds of medical equipment and nurses coming in, day and night.”

Karl did have minor complications and spent a few days in the hospital toward the end of her two-week recovery, but said she was pleased she was able to spend her initial recovery time in the hotel.

UC Davis oncologist Joseph Tuscano oversaw the transplant in late April. He said most outpatient stem cell transplant patients will be able to recover at home as long as they live within an hour of the cancer center. If not, hotel accommodations on campus are available.

“Outpatient stem cell transplants offer the full benefits of the standard inpatient version of this lifesaving procedure,” said Tuscano. “But we think there will be a decrease in recovery time and an increase in the mental wellness of patients who can become stressed by long hospitalizations and separation from family.”

Offering outpatient stem cell transplants is even more important during times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when visitors to the hospital are limited.

“We think being with loved ones is an important part of the recovery process,” said Tuscano. “It also lowers health care costs and allows the patient to get back to enjoying life, which is what it is all about.”