Haploidentical stem cell transplant survivor: Cancer, you never had a chance

One of the first features you notice about Travis Arnold is his wide smile. And, Travis has every reason to beam. He graduated this past May in the top 2% of his high school class and looks forward to attending The University of Texas at Austin in the fall. Thanks to a haploidentical stem cell transplant, he’s also celebrating his third year with no evidence of disease after a cancer diagnosis at age 12. A myelodysplastic syndrome diagnosis, then acute myeloid leukemia In 2011, Travis returned home from summer camp and wasn’t feeling well. While this didn’t stop him from playing in a weekend baseball tournament, his illness lingered well after the final game. “I went to the doctor thinking it was a simple cold,” Travis says. But after some tests, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a precursor to leukemia. “At first, I thought, ‘Why me?’” Travis says. “Then I quickly found out that I could beat this disease.” But there were challenges. He received a stem cell transplant from a “perfect match” donor shortly after his MDS diagnosis. A year later, Travis relapsed and his MDS evolved to acute myeloid leukemia. He endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and another failed stem cell transplant before his family came to MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Third time’s a charm with haploidentical transplant At MD Anderson, Travis received a haploidentical transplant — also called a half-match transplant. Whereas most allogeneic stem cell transplants require a donor who’s a perfect or nearly perfect match, a haploidentical transplant only requires the donor to be a half-match. This meant Travis’...