Mother of Four Won the Battle Against Breast Cancer and Leukemia: Deb Martell, Part 4 #WeCanICan series

Mother of Four Won the Battle Against Breast Cancer and Leukemia: Deb Martell, Part 4 #WeCanICan series

Mother of four, Deb Martell fought breast cancer and won only to discover nine years later that she had developed leukemia (AML). Cord blood saved her life.

Part 4 in our #WeCanICan: Beat Cancer with Cord Blood series, in association with World Cancer Day

Life is so simple. You are born. You go to school. You meet someone nice, get married, have a few kids. . . and boom! Cancer.

Cancer does not discriminate. It can pick on anyone and at any time. Originally from Wisconsin, Deb Martell moved to Denver in 1997 with her family. She was 36 years old at the time and a proud mother of four adorable children aged (4, 6, 9 & 11). Life was moving along nicely and very busy due to the move. So, you can imagine how shocked Deb was when she learned she had breast cancer just two months after the move.

Deb’s doctors moved quickly to put her on a hard course of chemotherapy. They also performed an autologous transplant (using her own stem cells), considered a radical treatment in the late 90’s. The treatment saved her life but also damaged her body severely. In particular, the harsh chemo treatment would prove to have a potentially fatal long-term side effect. Everyone knew there was a risk of this but Deb knew she was facing a life or death choice. She followed her doctor’s advice and won a second chance at life. She won the battle against breast cancer!

Fast forward nine years. . . Deb was enjoying her new life and so grateful to have beaten breast cancer. She and her family had moved again. Now, they were living in Wisconsin. The kids were growing up fast. Her oldest was now 20. The youngest was 13. All were keeping her busy with school runs, getting everyone to afterschool activities like hockey and soccer and volunteering at the church.

This was 2007 and Deb had just returned from dropping her second son off at college. She knew something was wrong. She felt incredibly weak. She made an appointment with her doctor. They drew some blood and realized that she needed two units immediately. A bone marrow biopsy was ordered for the next day. Deb was told that she had been diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukaemia). It was serious.

As the testing progressed, her doctor realized that she also had a “Chromosome 7 Abnormality” which most likely developed following the heavy chemotherapy she received back in 1998. The intense chemo treatment had saved her life but forever altered her body.  The fact remained that now she had leukemia and required immediate treatment. The doctor advised her to check into the hospital that same day so that she could start a week of chemo in preparation for a stem cell transplant. They would start looking for a bone marrow donor immediately.

WeCanICan - World Cancer Day - Beat Cancer With Cord Blood - Deb Martell

Deb Martell: Two-time Cancer Survivor – #WeCanICan: Beat Cancer with Cord Blood

Deb immediately thought of her kids, “What? . . . but I can’t. Not today. I have to pick up my kids, make arrangements, I can’t just drop everything and start chemo.” Yes, the realities of motherhood often do not line up with the realities of the medical world. Deb did her best.

She quickly organized the necessary logistics for her children and made calls out to everyone to see if they could be a possible bone marrow donor. Everyone stepped into action. A network of family and friends was set up on Caring Bridge. Deb started chemo that weekend.

Deb’s doctors St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee had hoped that her brother would be a possible match for a bone marrow stem cell transplant. However, the criteria for a bone marrow transplant are strict and sadly he was not a match. Was there another option? Deb was desperate.

A hero emerged. . . Dr. Robert Taylor at St. Luke’s recommended she speak with a colleague of his who was doing exciting work using cord blood to fight cancer. This one conversation would save her life. Deb is grateful to this day that Dr. Taylor truly explored all options. He thought out of the box and put her in touch with Dr. Claudio Brunstein at the University of Minnesota – Fairview Hospital.

Deb met with Dr. Brunstein and the decision was made that a cord blood stem cell transplant would be her best hope for survival. The matching process would be easier than for bone marrow and hopefully they would only need one cord since she was considered a relatively small adult in terms of weight and height. The search began.

Deb proceeded with the chemo treatment and began to prepare her body for the transplant. She started to have numerous adverse reactions and issues with platelet transfusions because of the many antibodies in her system. The Blood Center of Wisconsin did an amazing job of finding the specific HLA matched platelets she needed.

Good news . . . Dr. Brunstein had found a cord blood donation that matched! Not only did it meet the basic criteria for matching, it exceeded it. The cord could have come from anywhere in the world but in Deb’s case it was found in the US which made logistics much easier. That donation turned out to be a 6 to 6 antigen match! Dr. Brunstein and his team also said that it was the largest cord blood collection they had ever seen. That meant that they would not need a second one. One would be enough!

Deb received her cord blood transplant on December 18th, 2007. She ended up staying in the hospital for a total of 36 days and then a local apartment for 3 months during which time she was separated from her family as they continued with school and work. However, her recovery progressed nicely. She did not suffer any problems with Graft versus Host Disease (another benefit of using cord blood instead of bone marrow). Her blood type changed from A+ to O+ and she developed an allergy to cashews. Overall, she made a quick recovery and her doctors were very impressed saying that she was an “exceptional cancer patient.”

Cancer survivor, mother of four, attends family wedding

Post cord blood transplant, Deb Martell attends a family wedding.

This past December, Deb celebrated her 9th birthday. Yes, it has been 9 years and she is cancer free! As you can imagine, Deb takes nothing for granted in life. She wakes up every morning and follows a routine filled with gratitude and healthy choices. “I thank God every morning for my very breath and the blessing it is to live another day. My day starts with prayer and thanksgiving and coffee with coconut oil and raw honey! Followed by my workout (usually),” she says.

Indeed, the experience has taught her and her family to be grateful for so much. Her fight against cancer has also influenced her kids in choices they have made. . . one becoming a lawyer, another a nurse. All of them are intent on making the world a better place. Deb and her family say now that they “don’t look at problems that other people see and give up. We try to learn from those problems.”

Thanks to cord blood, Deb was given another chance at life. Thanks to this valuable medical resource, she has been able to attend graduations, watch her kids blossom, enjoy the outdoors (love this photo of her kayaking!), work part-time . . . she is living and loving life!!

What is Deb’s advice to other cancer patients?

  • Be grateful. Take nothing for granted!
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle post-treatment. Deb keeps a non-toxic home as much as possible. Her goal every day is to protect and build her immune system. She eats gluten-free, corn-free, non-processed foods, . . . She stays health through choices that she makes daily.
  • One of her favorite rituals which she highly recommends is making a morning smoothie. Deb shared her recipe with us. Looks yummy!
Deb's Smoothie Recipe

1 cup organic spinach

1/2 an avocado

1 heaping T of coconut kefir spread (I get this locally so I’m not sure it’s available everywhere, but use something that has probiotics and live cultures.)

heaping T of LIVfit Superfood Blend or your choice of protein powder

1 small fairly unripe banana

1 cup organic frozen mixed berries

2 tp of cacao powder

8 oz of coconut water or filtered water

1 T of raw honey if you need more sweet

Blend and enjoy!


world cancer dayCord blood is an incredible medical resource. Since 1988, there have been more than 35,000 cord blood transplants worldwide.  Far from science-fiction, cord blood is currently used to treat over 80 diseases including sickle cell anemia, lymphoma and leukemia. Cord blood is also proving key for exciting research in regenerative medicine to potentially treating things like autism, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, diabetes. . .

Learn more about how cord blood is used to fight cancer by meeting others whose lives have been saved thanks to cord blood.  Discover the full #WeCanICan: Beat Cancer with Cord Blood series (in World Cancer Day).

Two Kids Fight Cancer & Cerebral Palsy with Cord Blood (as seen in USA Today)

Two Kids Fight Cancer & Cerebral Palsy with Cord Blood (as seen in USA Today)

dylan praskins cord blood recipient

Being a kid! 6 years after his cord blood transplant, Dylan is having fun.

For USA Today, Save the Cord Foundation was recently asked to speak about treatments using cord blood to treat cancer and cerebral palsy. We took this opportunity to introduce readers to two amazing young boys whose lives have been forever changed thanks to cord blood. Meet Dylan and Ashton.

Read the full article published in a special edition of USA Today, “Expecting Parents.”

Dylan Fought Leukemia and Won

Born in April 2009, Dylan Praskins was diagnosed with infant leukemia or ALL (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia) at only 8 weeks old. We have followed Dylan’s story since he was diagnosed. Against incredible odds, he won his fight against cancer thanks to cord blood.

Dylan’s case demonstrates why public cord blood donation is so important.

Read more about Dylan here.

Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Ashton Said Good-Bye to his Wheelchair

Viacord Cord blood for cerebral palsy

Ashton was 6 weeks old when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The diagnosis was not expected but luckily, Ashton’s parents had saved his cord blood at birth. At the age of 5, Ashton received his own cord blood stem cells in a simple 20-minute transfusion. Signs of improvement quickly followed.

Learn more about private cord blood banking (or “family banking”).


Ashton’s story is not unique. Research using cord blood to treat cerebral palsy, autism, diabetes and more is advancing quickly. As a source of non-controversial stem cells, cord blood is at the forefront of regenerative medicine. Learn more about the science that is helping these two boys have a second chance at life.

Read the full article (as seen in USA Today) to learn more.



Join the Cord Blood Movement

Public and private cord blood banking are both important. At Save the Cord Foundation, we recognize that every family is different. For some, public banking provides a way for to help others and make use of a valuable resource which would otherwise be thrown away. For others, their family history or personal medical history may mean that private cord blood banking is a priority. Some parents don’t have a public banking option and so choose to privately store their child’s cord blood so that it is not thrown away simply as medical waste.

Regardless of your choice, one thing is clear. Even though cord blood is currently being used to treat over 80 different diseases, we are just starting to understand the potential of this fantastic medical resource. Saving cord blood is the ultimate in recycling. Join the #cordbloodmovement today. Tell a friend about Dylan and Ashton. Encourage them to learn more @SaveTheCord. Empower them with knowledge so that they can make the right choice for them. #SaveTheCord

Click here to get involved and spread the word.

NEWS: Nebraska 1st Ever Double Cord Blood Transplant to Treat 13-Year Old with Leukemia

NEWS: Nebraska 1st Ever Double Cord Blood Transplant to Treat 13-Year Old with Leukemia

Ready to smile?  This week young Joseph Cruz, or “J-Money” as one of the nurses call him, has received a double cord blood transplant to treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).  Doctors at the Nebraska Medicine say that this is first time ever that a double cord blood transplant has been performed in the state of Nebraska.

Diagnosed with leukemia over a year and half ago, doctors desperately tried to find a stem cell match for Joseph. Incredibly, they were not able to find a match for Joseph even though he has 9 brothers and sisters.  They also searched the national registries for bone marrow. Ultimately, it was the training and insight of Dr. Sachit Patel that led them to giving cord blood a chance.

Joseph’s story is yet another reminder of how valuable cord blood is to the medical community and patients desperately waiting for a stem cell match.  Thanks to two families who chose to donate their child’s cord blood at birth, Joseph will have a second chance at life. Imagine if this option had not been available. Cord blood is Joseph’s #CancerMoonshot!

Read more about Joseph and view this interview with him filmed just after his transplant. 

We want to wish Joseph a speedy recovery and thank all of those parents out there who are giving cancer patients a second chance thanks to cord blood.

We also want to acknowledge the outstanding leadership shown by the medical team at Nebraska Medicine who pushed to find a treatment for Joseph. You are fighting childhood cancer head on! Bravo!

Source: Channel 6 WOWT Nebraska


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Do you want to learn more about how
cord blood is being used to fight cancer?  

Read about more cord blood transplant recipients, like Joseph,
in our “#WeCanICan: Beat Cancer with Cord Blood” series.

Diane Paradise, Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer survivor thanks to cord blood.




GUEST POST:  We are Having a Baby! A Father’s Advice on Cord Blood

GUEST POST: We are Having a Baby! A Father’s Advice on Cord Blood

When talking about cord blood, we must not forget the father’s opinion. He brings a unique perspective to the decision making process.  Save the Cord Foundation recently reached out to several fathers who, along with the rest of their family, agreed to save their baby’s cord blood. This is the first in a series of guest blog posts from fathers.

A longtime supporter of Save the Cord Foundation, Donald Hudspepth, father and General Manager at LifeForce Cryobanks, had some very good points to make on why dads everywhere should get more involved in supporting cord blood preservation. The following is his advice to future parents everywhere.

“We are having a baby!”  Along with “Yes, I’ll Marry you” and “I Do”, these are some of the most exciting (and scariest) words a guy can hear. Your mind races at breakneck speed to comprehend all the possibilities. But let me tell you, there is nothing better than holding your newborn and seeing that first smile! (They’ll tell you it’s just gas, but you’ll know the truth!) But now what? You’ve got another mouth to feed and someone to protect from this harsh, cruel world.

It’s never too early to start thinking about protecting or “taking care” of your children. Whether it’s starting a college fund or savings account, setting up simple life insurance, “baby-proofing” the house (there’s NO such thing!), or watching You-tube how-to videos, it’s never too early!

So, I would like to talk with you about something you and mom can do now, before the baby is born, to help protect and take care of your baby and family….umbilical cord blood banking. The blood remaining in the umbilical cord after the baby is born is rich in stem cells. These cells are the building blocks for the entire body, bones, muscles, blood, organs, everything. As such, they can be stored to be used at a later date to treat over 75 diseases.

Currently, cord blood stem cells are used as an alternative source to bone marrow to treat various leukemias, lymphomas, anemias, and enzyme deficiency diseases. Clinical trials are ongoing to look at using stem cells to treat most every major disease we can study. Things like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, cerebral palsy, diabetes, heart attack, spinal injury and the list goes on. These cells have a huge potential for treating tens of millions of people worldwide.

Now, is your one time to collect them. Save them from the medical waste trash and let them be the tiny miracles they were created to be. Private family banking is widely available and at a wide range of prices. Do your research and find a company that you are comfortable using. Call them and ask questions. Speak to your doctor about your family medical history to determine your future potential risks. Speak with each other to determine if you can financially add stem cell banking to your budget (many companies offer long term financing options). Knowledge is key.

But, I ask, from one parent to another, please, please, please consider your options. Private banking admittedly is not for everyone. But, you can also donate the cord blood to be used to help treat anyone in the world in need of a stem cell transplant. Either way, it doesn’t end up in the hospital trash can. You are about to begin the most significant part of your life as you raise and care for your newborn. As with everything else you will do, knowledge of your options, doing research to understand them, and discussions with your partner will guide you to a successful outcome.

Congratulations on your pregnancy! I wish you all the best of luck and a most happy and enjoyable life together surrounded by love!

~ Donald Hudspeth

Give life twice. #SAVETHECORD.

Learn more about family banking at LifeForce Cryobanks or discover how you can donate your baby’s cord blood via the popular “Cord for Life” program sponsored by LifeForce Cryobanks.

cord-for-life  LifeForce Cryobanks

About Save the Cord Foundation

Save the Cord Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization, was established to promote awareness of the life-saving benefits of cord blood based on unbiased and factual information. The Foundation educates parents, health professionals and the general public about the need to preserve this valuable medical resource while providing information on both public cord blood donation programs and family cord blood banks worldwide.

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