Transplant day

Female patient in hospital ward with female nurse

Transplant day normally happens the day after your conditioning therapy finishes. People often call it ‘day zero’.

If you’re receiving your cells from an unrelated donor through Anthony Nolan, they’ll be hand-delivered by one of our volunteer couriers, less than 72 hours after they were collected.

What happens during the stem cell transplant?

To start with, your nurse will check your pulse, blood pressure and temperature. They will also give you an anti-histamine and a small dose of steroids via your central line. This will help to stop any allergic reaction during the infusion of your new stem cells.

The cells will be passed as a fluid through your central line in the same way as a blood transfusion. This can take between 30 minutes and a few hours.

The transplant isn’t painful and you’ll be awake the whole time. When the infusion has finished, your nurse will flush your line through with saline to keep it clean. You’ll have your blood pressure, pulse and temperature checked again, and then the transplant is complete.

People have different experiences of transplant day. For some it’s a celebration of a new beginning, a second birthday. For others it’s a bit of an anti-climax because something so important is over so quickly and simply.

The transplant itself was very uneventful, just like having a blood transfusion. I was very excited and relieved when it was happening, but my son (who was having it) slept through the whole thing.

Holly, whose son Rupert had a stem cell transplant

What medication will I need to take?

You will take a number of different medications to help you through your transplant and during your recovery. They may come in tablet form but some will be delivered through your central line too.

These drugs will often have strange-sounding names and it can be difficult to remember why each one is needed. In general, it will be for one of five reasons:

  • to help engraftment, the forming of your new blood cells, happen more quickly (called growth factors)
  • to help control your new immune system and reduce the effects of GvHD
  • to protect from bacterial infections (called antibacterial prophylaxis)
  • to prevent viral infections
  • to control other symptoms and side effects.

My daughter Caitlin took a photo of the cells going in. To be honest it's just a normal day, it's a transfusion just like all the ones I'd had before. But god, it makes a difference!

Nigel, who had a transplant in 2013 – you can read his story here

How will I know if the stem cell transplant has worked?

After the transplant, your new stem cells travel in your bloodstream to your bone marrow. Once there, they attach themselves and start to produce new blood cells that will form your new immune system. This is called 'engraftment'.

Engraftment normally takes around two to three weeks, but it can sometimes take longer. The first sign of engraftment is often an increase in your white blood cell count. Your medical team will test your blood regularly so they know when engraftment has started and that your white blood cell count is steadily increasing.

During this time, you might need blood and platelet transfusions a few times a week. This is to help ‘top up’ your red blood cells, which may also be low. It’s a normal part of recovery and doesn’t mean that your transplant isn’t working. However, if you do have concerns, you should talk to your medical team about it.

Information published: 02/08/2021
Next review due: 02/08/2024

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Recovery in the first year

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