An ASTCT Member Recalls His Work with Bone Marrow Transplants on Patients After the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

ASTCT member Yair Reisner, MD, recently wrote for Time Magazine about his experience in Moscow after the Chernobyl disaster. In April 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded and caused the worst nuclear disaster in history. Many were exposed to radiation, which is associated with failure to maintain the blood system.

Reisner, along with ASTCT founding members Richard O’Reilly, MD, and Richard Champlin, MD, traveled to Moscow as part of an American cohort to perform bone marrow transplants on radiation victims. They also helped train staff at the hospital to perform the duties themselves.

My first impression of Hospital No. 6 was extremely grim. I will never forget the horrid smell that hung over the place, a mixture of Lysol and another acrid, unfamiliar smell. The hospital grounds were surrounded by soldiers in fading work clothes; next to them was an outdated kitchen tent and beyond I could see everywhere cracked outer walls and peeling plaster. At the entrance to the hospital we were greeted by Dr. Baranov, the chief hematologist. We were shown into a room on the third floor where stood an old laminar flow hood, required for sterile work. This is where I was to set up my lab, and the only centrifuge in the hospital would be moved there. At my hotel that night, the enormity of my task was too much to bear and I could not fall asleep. In the past I had performed the procedure of cleaning bone marrow dozens of times, but never under such conditions as I found in Moscow.

Reisner recalled his story for Time Magazine on the event’s 34th anniversary. He said it’s poignant for many reasons, but especially in light of COVID-19. Now more than ever the medicine and science communities need to come together to work on an international solution to this problem—much like they did in Chernobyl.

To read Reisner’s full account, visit Time Magazine’s website.


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