Reflecting On a Life-Altering Diagnosis: One BMT Professional’s Journey

I was in a fog, all I could see was darkness although it was the middle of the day, the blinds were open and all the lights in my room were on.

The nurses around me were hectic, moving quickly and clearly with purpose. Beside me, my mom was squeezing a bag of IV fluid. I was just trying to keep up, but I was scared and I couldn’t process all the activity. I gathered every bit of energy and focus I had to ask one question: “Am I going to die today?”

“NO!” was the resounding answer from my nursing staff (including my mom) and that was enough for me.I trusted these people and I drifted off. I later awoke in the ICU, but I was feeling markedly better as the fog and darkness and the anxiety was gone.

I later found out that I had serum sickness from ATG, my blood pressure was around 60/30 at some point and they had given me 4L of IVF in an effort to keep me out of the ICU. It wasn’t quite enough and I ended up requiring vasopressor support, but I was out of the woods. I was only a freshman in college.

Looking back, this was one of the moments that steered my life into a new direction. I am now a physician assistant working on the bone marrow transplant team at Sarah Cannon Cancer Center, but before my own experiences as a patient, I was going to journalism school to be a SportsCenter anchor. Then I needed a bone marrow transplant and everything changed.

It goes back to my senior year in high school with a markedly abnormal CBC, a transfer to a hematologist, a bone marrow biopsy, and a diagnosis of MDS my senior year. The next thing I knew I was in a hospital bed, counting my days post-transplant.

It was in those days that I came to the realization that I belonged in health care, gone were my dreams of sports broadcasting – I needed to return the favor. I was surrounded by amazing people who seemed to only care that I made it through each day no matter how much time or effort it took. They loved what they did and it showed. The nurses got me through the worst days, the doctors gave me hope when I was down, the NPs relived my anxiety and pain. They were all just doing their jobs – but it meant so much to me, more than they knew.

I was amazed and inspired by all of these people and I knew my future was in health care. So after my long experience with transplant, with GVHD, with multiple infections, with two hip replacements – after I was done with all of that I went back to school on a mission to find my way into medicine.

Darren Johnson, PA-C, works in pediatric hematology oncology at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial, part of the Sarah Cannon Research Institute. He is also on the incoming chair for ASTCT’s Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant SIG.  


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