Dani Shotel has two birthdays. The 1994 graduate of Wootton High School was born in June, 27 years ago. But her bone marrow transplant took place this February. “Next February I’ll be 1 year old,” Shotel said.
Temple Beth-Ami in Rockville and the Walter Reed School, in Arlington, Va., held donor drives to find a donor who match the bone marrow type for Shotel, who now lives in Falls Church, Va. She worked at the Reed School, for children with disabilities.
Although neither drive produced a match for Shotel, they did find matches for other people. “A couple of people have been contacted,” Shotel said.
Her donor was found in Germany — “my only match,” Shotel said. Donor regulations prohibit Shotel from contacting the donor for two years after the procedure. But Shotel plans to contact him as soon as possible. “You want to thank him,” she said.
Shotel needed to take some time off in order to have the transplant and received help from her colleagues in Arlington Public Schools. “I had over 100 days donated to me,” Shotel said.
Once the match was found, Shotel went to the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle to undergo the transplant, because they have experience with Shotel’s specific conditions.
“We weren’t a perfect match,” she said.
One major problem was that she had a different blood type than her donor. So doctors changed her blood type. “I was an O-positive, now I’m an A-negative,” Shotel said.
AFTER THE PROCEDURE, Shotel experienced minor complications from graft-versus-host disease, sometimes called GVHD. “Your body needs to accept the donor cells, but it’s fighting the donor cells,” Shotel said.
In her case, the GVHD manifested as a rash. While there are no longer visible symptoms, Shotel still tests positive for the illness.
“It’s actually good to have a little,” Shotel said. A mild case of GVHD is actually considered a good sign, since it means that the patient’s immune system is still functioning.
“She’s been doing great,” said Sandy Davis, a longtime friend of Shotel’s.
“I think she’s kind of the epitome of how they want you to be,” said Scott Greene, Shotel’s boyfriend.
Motivated by his girlfriend’s illness, Greene is managing the Friends of Dani team in the annual Light the Nights Walk, sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Last year, Dani’s team raised approximately $800 for the society and this year Greene hopes to exceed that mark.
Last year Shotel had been diagnosed just before the walk and couldn’t take part. But this year she is looking forward to the walk. Participation on her team is not limited to those who know Shotel personally. “Anybody who’s supporting it can join,” Shotel said.
DANI HAS RETURNED to work, although in a different capacity than before her transplant. “[The school system] really made it so I could come to work every day,” Shotel said.
Shotel’s immune system is compromised as a result of the chemotherapy, so she is unable to have all the vaccinations necessary to work with children. As a result, Shotel has been working as a transition coordinator, assisting adults with disabilities as they integrate into the community.
Next February, one year after the transplant, she will be able to get the necessary shots and resume working with children, which she plans to do next at the start of the 2004-05 school year.
Shotel believes that her experience working with adults with disabilities can help her when she deals with parents whose children have recently been diagnosed with a disability. “I think it will help me a lot in my discussions with parents, “Shotel said. “I can tell them, there is hope.”