Gardnerville family leaves for Minnesota for transplant
The Epps family of Gardnerville started what may be the longest journey it ever makes Monday.
Wendy, Mike and their daughter April, 12, began driving to Minneapolis, where April will donate bone marrow to her mother for the only chance that Wendy has to beat a disease that claimed her brother.
Wendy Epps was born with Fanconi anemia. The disorder typically results in bone marrow failure, and in Wendy’s case, has developed into myelodysplasia, a pre-leukemia condition.
Even with the transplant, Epps has a one in three chance of surviving. Most patients with Fanconi do not reach adulthood. Wendy’s brother, David Eichman, died in 1989 at age 27. Her sister, Robin Moroney, 37, also has the disease, but is healthy and living in New Jersey.
Epps, 33, had remained stable for many years, but in July began developing the beginning stages of bone marrow failure.
The family will live in Minneapolis for the next six or seven months in order for the procedure to be done at Fairview University Medical Center.
They were able to rent an apartment only two blocks from the hospital for $760 a month. The Epps have been worried about paying to maintain two homes during this time. Community fund-raisers have helped somewhat.
Their church, High Sierra Fellowship, has been very supportive, Wendy said. Mike has been a worship leader there for eight years.
“They’ve been a real important part of our ministry,” said Pastor Rich Lammay.
Last week, youth group members organized a fund-raising dinner, held a raffle and auctioned their labor for housekeeping services. The group raised almost $2,000.
“The youth group put so much effort into it. We appreciate the community’s involvement with the donations,” Lammay said.
The church also established and controls the Wendy Eichman-Epps Trust Fund at Wells Fargo bank, account 620-102-8765.
Epps said the family still has financial worries, but members are thankful for all the donations.
Just before the family left, Epps said she was mostly anxious to have the procedure over and done with. However, they left early to have time for some sightseeing and to do fun things with April.
“April is getting nervous. She’s more nervous about going to a new school, though. She will be with me for a minimum of a month and then probably go stay with my sister and she will have to go to school there. It is a middle school, but her cousin will be with her,” Epps said. April was a 6th grade student at Gardnerville Elementary School, but won’t be able to continue schooling via Internet as she had hoped.
Doctors still haven’t decided which procedure to use to harvest the bone marrow, Epps said. There are two options: one is essentially a blood donation in which the blood is filtered to collect stem cells and the second is a surgical procedure to take the marrow out of her bones.
Epps will have a week of tests and then radiation therapy for 10 days to kill as many of the sick cells as possible. That starts Wendy’s six-week stay in the hospital.
The transfusion will follow the radiation treatment, if Epps is still healthy enough.
“For between 10 to 21 days, I’ll have no immune system. That is when (April’s) cells should start to engraph and the donor cells will start to take off. Her marrow might reject me. Hopefully, she’ll know where she is because I carried her for nine months. And then her cells will start to do all the work,” Epps said with a laugh.
While April and her mother are in the hospital, Wendy’s mother, Bev Eichman, will visit.
“If April has to stay in the hospital, Mike will need someone else there,” Epps said. “She’ll come and go when I am released from the hospital. Most of the time, I will have to stay in the apartment. I will have to be isolated because of my immune system.”
Following her release from the hospital after 100 days, Epps will have to go to the clinic for checkups and treatment every day until she is declared healthy enough to come home.
Epps said she and April expect to lean heavily on Mike during this period, but she thinks he can hold the weight.
“He’ll have to be my nurse and do all the housework. We’ve been married for 13 years and I think this is the first time he has had to do the laundry,” Epps joked. “He’ll do OK. He’s a very smart man.”
Mike, who is a construction worker, is also taking his tools with him in case he has a chance to find work in Minneapolis. Wendy’s mom will continue the fund-raising efforts here.
Eichman is raffling a photograph taken by a co-worker of hers. She works with amateur photographer Michael Deligo at Caesar’s Tahoe. He has mounted and framed a photograph he took in Genoa.
The picture will be on display at the Winner’s Corner Chevron near Raley’s for two weeks. Raffle tickets cost $2 each, five for $3 or 20 for $20.