Bloodless Bone Marrow Transplants

The Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai's Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute conducts bloodless bone marrow transplants that are available for Jehovah's Witnesses, a group that does not accept blood transfusions. The challenging of conventions has paved the way for saving the lives of those who could not be saved before. Cedars-Sinai is one of only two institutions in the country that offers this type of transplant, so Jehovah's Witnesses have come from around the country to this program for treatment and specialized care.

Michael Lill, MD, director of the Bone and Marrow Transplant program, started the bloodless bone marrow transplant program about 10 years ago. Lill developed Cedars-Sinai's procedure and protocol, under which the patient's hemoglobin count is raised as high as possible before the stem cell transplant, greatly reducing the chance that a transfusion will be needed.

"Medically, we are very careful in managing these patients, as we're aware they will choose not to continue the potentially life-saving transplant process if blood is needed," says Lill.

The transplant process usually involves a three-week hospital stay, so nurses, residents, lab technicians, and other involved staff are sensitive and supportive of these patients' wishes throughout their stay. Cedars-Sinai has performed about 30 bloodless bone marrow transplants, and because of the careful management of each case, the outcomes for these patients are similar to those undergoing the traditional transplant protocol.

"I'm a strong believer in patient autonomy," said Lill. "These people wouldn't otherwise be helped. The world is full of people who hold completely different beliefs than yours. You can still respect and treat them."