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No Place Like Home

Outpatient stem cell transplant program lets patients spend less time in the hospital, more time with family

Outpatient stem cell transplant program lets patients spend less time in the hospital, more time with family

Resting in a lounge chair, Rebecca Zoltoski sat knitting a hat in a private bay on the top floor of the Center for Care and Discovery. An intravenous line delivered chemotherapy – a first step before her stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma.

Days later, the biochemist would be the first patient at the University of Chicago Medicine to undergo a blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant as an outpatient.

Andrzej Jakubowiak

"Rebecca was in great shape and had an excellent support system," said her oncologist Andrzej Jakubowiak, MD, PhD. "She was a prime candidate for the outpatient treatment." Jakubowiak is the director of the hospital's myeloma program, and works closely with the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium to bring the latest treatments to patients.

Instead of the typical three-to-four week hospital inpatient stay, Zoltoski spent a few hours in the outpatient unit daily, where she underwent tests and the infusion of healthy cells to overpower cancer cells. She went back to her home in La Grange Park each afternoon, where "I could have my family around and sleep in my bed," said the wife and mother. "I was sick and very weak for a while. But having access to my own food and bed made it better." Within three months, Zoltoski was back to work.

Michael Bishop

Spearheaded by Michael Bishop, MD, in 2014, the outpatient blood and bone marrow stem cell transplantation program was designed to provide just this level of comfort and convenience for patients. The program offers patients the full course of treatment (pre-transplant evaluation, conditioning, infusion of their stem cells, engraftment and recovery) on an outpatient basis.

"Knowing you are going home every day gives patients a psychological advantage," Bishop said. "Only one in four will need to be admitted to the hospital, primarily to care for symptoms of infection."

"Knowing you are going home every day gives patients a psychological advantage," Bishop said. "Only one in four will need to be admitted to the hospital, primarily to care for symptoms of infection."

The service is offered on a case-by-case basis to select multiple myeloma and lymphoma patients. Individuals are subject to a thorough screening and evaluated based on their age, ability to perform certain activities, live within an hour drive of the University of Chicago Medicine, or be able to arrange a place to stay nearby. Another requirement is that patients are required to have a 24/7 caregiver. This person can be a relative or friend and does not need to be a trained medical professional.

It's been two years since Zoltoski completed treatment, and the outpatient experience went well for her. "I have had minimal side effects, mostly fatigue and some days my GI system is impacted, but otherwise I have been very lucky."