CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) — One doctor’s breakthrough research on bone marrow transplantation at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is making its way into hospitals across the nation.

A bone marrow transplant replaces unhealthy blood stem cells with healthy ones, according to national marrow donor program Be the Match.

Health experts say the procedure is essential for treating a variety of blood disorders and cancers, including leukemia and sickle cell disease.

“It’s so important to have a large pool of bone marrow donors so that we can ideally provide every patient who needs a bone marrow transplant with their available match,” said Dr. Nicole McCoy, a pediatric anesthesiologist at MUSC.

However, the procedure can be painful and inconvenient for donors.

In fact, Dr. McCoy said pain is one of the procedure’s main side effects, along with fatigue and reactions to anesthesia, like nausea.

While most donors who are giving bone marrow to save the life of a relative are not as hesitant about the procedure, the difficult recovery process may prevent unrelated donors from giving bone marrow altogether, she said.

For this reason, Dr. McCoy, who is now in her fourth year of practice at MUSC, conducted a study in the hopes of changing that.

“What my dream would be is for this to become the standard of care, especially for our unrelated donors,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing how successful the project was.”

Research findings from the two-year project, which involved over 30 patients, helped Dr. McCoy develop a new technique for bone marrow transplants.

This redesigned protocol significantly decreases both the severity of pain after the procedure and the number of opioids needed during recovery.

“We know how to make your pain much less, or even eliminate it immediately after this procedure, so for that reason, you should not be hesitant to donate,” she said.

Now, that protocol is being taught in other institutions around the country, including pediatric anesthesia and oncology departments, Dr. McCoy said.

“For us to be the premier leading institution, providing care for patients that other institutions can then use and educate their providers, and have these outcomes, I think is amazing,” she said. 

It’s a feat that amazes patients and their families, too — like Tiffany Mullins, whose 6-year-old son Lincoln was diagnosed with leukemia last year.

“To have our female anesthesiologist…changing what’s possible and changing the world, it’s huge to be involved in that,” Mullins said.

Mullins has been a nurse at MUSC for over a decade herself and was thankful to be able to put her son’s health in the hands of Dr. McCoy, her own colleague.

“She’s a pediatrician, she’s a doctor, she’s a mother and she goes above and beyond for her patients,” Mullins said. “She’s one to show — this is why we have women in this profession.”

Dr. McCoy said she has been by Lincoln’s side — who is roughly halfway through his cancer treatment — through a variety of procedures.

“To see him grow and fight, and now be doing so well, it is so heartwarming. I have a lot of patients who I take care of with these amazing stories, and it’s definitely one of my most favorite parts of my job,” Dr. McCoy said.

For more information about Dr. McCoy, click here.

To learn more about bone marrow transplantation, click here.