Surviving Leukemia with Cord Blood: Linda’s Story

In November 2007, life took an unexpected turn for Linda Kosinski, a dedicated regional director at a subacute rehabilitation facility. Little did she know, the health battles she helped others face would become her own reality. At 38 years old, with three young boys at home, ages 1, 3 and 5, her world was turned upside down by a diagnosis that no one saw coming.
It was around Thanksgiving when the first signs appeared. She felt unusually tired and assumed it was just a cold or the flu. Sharp pains began to plague her joints, and a persistent pain on her left side raised further concern. A visit to her doctor revealed the unsettling truth: her white blood cell count was dangerously high. This led to an urgent referral to an oncologist, who confirmed her fears after a detailed examination and blood tests. On November 29, 2007, she was diagnosed with Philadelphia positive Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.

The Immediate Fight

The diagnosis was a shock. Cancer was something that happened to others, not to her. That day marked the beginning of a relentless fight for survival. Within hours of her diagnosis, she was admitted to the hospital and began chemotherapy. Her husband was informed of the grim prognosis: there was a high chance she might not survive the weekend. Miraculously, she did.
The following weeks were grueling. She underwent a port placement in her chest and spent 57 days in the hospital, enduring rounds of chemotherapy that brought on severe side effects: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, and more. Fran, was her caregiver and cheerleader pushing her to do the necessary things like get out of bed, take a walk, eat and drink when all these things required more energy than she had. Despite the harsh treatments, her resolve never wavered. She endured bone marrow biopsies, spinal taps, and countless blood and platelet transfusions. Holidays and special moments with her children were missed, but the hope of more days with her family kept her going.

Searching for a Lifesaving Match

Her battle was far from over. To achieve long-term remission, a bone marrow transplant was essential. Unfortunately, neither of her two sisters was a match. An extensive search through bone marrow registries also yielded no suitable donor. Undeterred, her family and friends organized donor drives across several states, adding many to the registry, but still no match for her.
Her husband Fran, a relentless advocate, researched tirelessly and found hope in cord blood transplants—a relatively new option at the time. Cord blood, with its many advantages such as better tolerance for mismatches and lower relapse rates, seemed like a promising solution. However, most hospitals were hesitant due to her poor prognosis. Some even went as far as denying her admission into the transplantation program. That’s when a breakthrough came: Dr. Anthony Stein from City of Hope Medical Center in California offered to help.

A New Hope: Cord Blood Transplant

Every Friday night, Dr. Stein called to update her on the search for a cord blood match. After three months of searching she got that call that two suitable matches were found: one from a baby boy in New Jersey and another from Italy. The matches weren’t perfect, but they were close enough to proceed.
In July, Linda and Fran made the difficult journey to California to focus on the upcoming transplant while her mother and mother-in-law took turns caring for the children back home. After undergoing total body radiation and intense chemotherapy, the transplant took place on July 11. The procedure itself was simple, akin to a transfusion, but her body reacted violently. Despite the initial scare, in just a few weeks the cells began to engraft as expected, marking a significant milestone in her recovery.

Overcoming Challenges

Her stay in California stretched to 17 weeks, during which she experienced both progress and setbacks, including a bout of graft versus host disease. However, she celebrated her 39th birthday in the hospital with heartfelt celebrations from both her family and the hospital staff, a testament to the supportive community that had rallied around her.
Returning home in October, she embraced life with a renewed sense of gratitude. Weekly visits to her oncologist and treatments at the infusion center became part of her routine. A surprising discovery awaited her: the transplant had changed her genetic makeup, turning her chromosomal makeup from XX to XY, an unexpected yet intriguing side effect.
She gradually resumed a normal life, free from further episodes of graft versus host disease. She celebrated milestones she once feared she wouldn’t see, including her children’s birthdays and achievements. Two years post-transplant, she reunited with Dr. Stein at City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant reunion, celebrating the triumph of survival and the advances in medical science.
Throughout this journey, her husband was her unwavering pillar of support. He encouraged her, cared for her, and ensured she never faced a moment of despair alone. Their family and friends provided a network of love and support that was crucial during the darkest times.

2024 Kosinski Family

The Importance of Cord Blood

When asked about why she shares her cord blood transplant story, Linda explains passionately, "I share my cord blood transplant story to spread awareness and educate people on the importance of saving cord blood, whether it be to donate or to store for family use in the future. I want to pay it forward and provide hope for people in a similar situation. I also want people to know that not only can one survive after a cord blood transplant, but they can live a full life and truly thrive.”

She wishes she had known about cord blood storage when she had her children. Linda added, "Knowing what I know now, I absolutely would save my children's cord blood. Sadly, most umbilical cords get thrown away as medical waste, but they save lives every day. What greater gift is there than to save a life?"

From her husband Fran, a heartfelt reflection on their journey together: "Words cannot express how thankful our family is for Linda receiving a cord blood transplant. We were unable to find a bone marrow match and our options were limited for saving Linda’s life. These past 16 years since her transplant, Linda has dedicated herself to promoting how cord blood transplants can help individuals in need as well as the benefits of cord blood banking. We hope that these efforts will help save lives and provide options for people who could benefit from this course of care."

Embracing a New Life

It has been 16 years since her cord blood stem cell transplant and she is thriving. Reflecting on her journey, she finds immense joy in the life she now leads. Today, she volunteers with organizations to raise awareness and funds for transplants, striving to give back to the community that once saved her. Her boys have grown into remarkable young men, each achieving their own dreams, a sight she once feared she would miss.
Her story is a powerful reminder of resilience, the advances in medical research, and the unyielding support of loved ones. Thanks to a combination of determination, a life-saving cord blood transplantation, and a compassionate medical team, she not only survived but thrived. Her second chance at life is one she cherishes every day, making each moment count with her family by her side.

Last Updated on: 06/26/2024 by Diane Paradise