News & Events

Nurse finds herself in patient’s role

March 16, 2012

One day she was working as clinical director of A-3, the next day she was a patient herself.

This sudden turn of events occurred on Oct. 16, 2011, when Terri Biss, RN, was diagnosed with leukemia.

After ending chemotherapy treatment it was determined that she needed a stem cell transplant to be cured.

Exact tissue type matches are needed, and some leukemia patients are lucky enough to have a family member that does. Ms. Biss wasn’t one of those people, and there is currently no one on the national registry that matches, either.

Still, she remains positive that a match will be found — doctors are searching the registry frequently for an appropriate donor.

But her positive attitude doesn’t end there. Because of her selfless demeanor, she isn’t just looking for her own match — she wants to help others that are in her situation.

To do this, Ms. Biss and Amy Dunion, RN, are organizing a bone marrow drive at Backus, to be held April 17, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Backus main lobby conference room 3 and simultaneously in the cafeteria.

The more drives that are held, the more people are entered into a national registry to help leukemia patients. In general, tissue types are inherited and Ms. Biss is of American Indian and Irish descent. But donors of all races and ethnicities are needed to help the many thousands of leukemia patients who are not among the 30% who have a family member match.

“You have to bring something positive out of a negative,” said Ms. Biss, who was packing her bags to go home Wednesday following her most recent hospital stay. “The perfect match could be someone walking around the halls at Backus. And if it’s not a perfect match for me, it could be for someone else. That’s something I feel very strongly about.”

Ms. Biss said she’s had many people say they’ll donate, but they don’t know how. While blood drives are common at Backus, bone marrow events are not.

In fact, the process is simple. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60, and perform a cheek swab. The entire screening and swabbing process takes about 10 minutes, Ms. Dunion said.

Tissue typing and processing fees are generally covered by insurance, but if you do not have health insurance, Michael’s Fund of Fall River, Mass., will cover the cost of the lab work or reimburse for any co-pay you may have. Please bring your insurance card to the bone marrow drive.

Walk-ins are welcome and although registration is not required, people can pick up and complete the intake paperwork ahead of time if they’d prefer. For more information about joining the registry or the bone marrow drive at Backus, call Ms. Dunion at 860-425-3877 or ext. 2483.

One of the reasons people tend to shy away from bone marrow drives is they are afraid that donating is painful.

However, the Be The Match Registry, which helps 10,000 patients a year, says that medicine has evolved and donors can donate in a non-surgical, outpatient procedure in which blood is removed through a needle in one arm, passed through a machine that removes blood stem cells, and then the blood is returned to the other arm.

There is also a surgical procedure in which the donor is put under anesthesia and the doctor uses a needle and a syringe to withdraw blood stem cells from the back of the pelvic bone.

Donors may choose either collection method.

Ms. Biss has been a nurse for nearly 38 years. She came to Backus more than three years ago from Pittsfield, Mass.

She and her husband, Eric, who live in Norwich, have two grown children, Derek and Ashley.

After returning home, Ms. Biss will be hospitalized again as doctors look for her match. If one is found, a transplant will be performed and she could be cured. She said doctors remain optimistic a match will be found in time.

Her hope is that she is able to spread the word, and encourage people to have more bone marrow drives in order to increase the number of people on the registry. Once a person is registered they remain there until they are 60 years old, unless they ask to be taken off.

“You have to look for silver linings,” Ms. Biss said.  “I needed to do something positive, to find a way to help others, in order to keep my head where it needed to be. This is one way to do that.”