For Patients

The Best Thing

Patient: Maria Hasenauer
Diagnosis: GVHD
Sight Restored: 2015

Maria Hasenauer and daughter

When Maria Hasenauer (pictured with her daughter, on Mother's Day 2016) survived her first bout of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at age 42, it was the impetus she needed to return to school to become a social worker. “I wanted to help people like me. I fought so hard to survive; I wanted to help those going through what I went through,” Maria remembered.

However, life had other plans for her.

When her leukemia recurred, her medical team decided to combine chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant. As a one of five children in her family, the odds were good that at least one sibling would be an excellent match. That “one” was her oldest brother, Ralph; human leukocyte antigen testing revealed a “10/10” perfect match, meaning that all ten of the protein markers found on Ralph stem cells matched those on Maria’s stem cells. 

A 10/10 match greatly reduces the possibility of developing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a complication that occurs when the transplanted cells recognize the tissue of the recipient as foreign and mount an immunological attack. Even with the perfect match, approximately nine months after her transplant, Maria became ill with a high fever, and was rushed to the hospital; there she learned that she had developed GVHD.

Two years later, the condition began affecting her eyes, and she went to Flaum Eye Institute looking for help.

Maria is very grateful for the excellent care she received at Flaum, even though she found little relief from her constant eye pain. She continued to muddle along, but her severe dry eye took a toll on her daily activities. Lights were never on in her house, and she could not go outside on days when it was too hot, too cold, or too windy. To make the 3.5 hour drive to visit her mother, Maria would need to leave the house well before dawn. She had to withdraw from college. “It was getting to a point where my situation was just terrible,” Maria said.

The BostonSight PROSE clinic at Flaum Eye Institute began seeing patients in 2015, and Maria was referred for PROSE treatment that June. When Tara Vaz, OD, put the first set of trial PROSE devices into Maria’s eyes, “I was like – oh my god! I didn’t realize that my eyes stung so badly until they didn’t.” A few days later Maria went home with her new PROSE devices – and she happily left the eye drops behind. “My PROSE devices are fantastic. They have been the best thing for my eyes since GVHD started. I used to apply eye drops multiple times each day, and haven’t had to use them once since I got PROSE treatment.”

Maria recently re-enrolled in college. She still wants to help people, but instead of being a social worker, “I am studying Communications, because I want to help get funding for GVHD research. I want to talk to Senators, members of Congress, whoever will listen to me. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have.” Perhaps through Maria’s efforts, the devastating symptoms of graft-versus-host disease can be prevented. Until then, BostonSight PROSE treatment stands ready to help those who are suffering.

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