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Recipient Of Duke's Historic Bone Marrow Transplant Recounts Experience

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DURHAM, N.C. — Children with rare blood diseases recently met a very special survivor at Duke Hospital -- the hospital's first pediatric bone marrow transplant patient. The experience impacted his life's work.
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    Rainbow of Heroes Walk

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    National Marrow Donor Program

    Kevin Shoulars was there for the ribbon-cutting in 1990. The then-16-year-old was Duke's first pediatric bone marrow transplant recipient.

    "It was a new experience for everyone here; even the nurses had never done this sort of thing," Shoulars said.

    Shoulars had leukemia. Then, he was the only patient. Now, he and his parents see a full house of young patients getting life-saving treatment for a variety of blood disorders.

    "The most traumatic part of the whole experience was just the radiation. It's kind of scary," he said.

    Then, Kevin's life depended on finding a suitable bone marrow donor. His older brother, Bart, was a match.

    "We were very excited. We went home that evening and were out in the street laughing," said Grace Shoulars, Kevin's mother.

    Today, stem cells from umbilical cord blood make finding a suitable bone marrow donor less critical. But the time away from home, family and friends is the same.

    "During the transplant, obviously, I missed the entire junior year of high school," he said.

    However, Shoulars did graduate on time. Now, he has a doctorate degree in cell biology from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. He plans to work in cancer research.

    "I think my experience (at Duke) led me into the field that would enable me to eventually help people who have similar problems to what I had," he said.

    On Saturday, May 6, Duke Hospital will hold its annual Rainbow of Heroes Walk to raise money for children in its Pediatric Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant program.

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