• Pathology liaison officer, Dian Kazandjian saw the value of pathology first hand when her only child, Sean, was diagnosed with leukaemia
  • Dian reserves special praise for the laboratory staff who helped diagnose and monitor her son’s illness
  • In 2015, Sean lost his courageous battle with leukaemia and passed away at the age of 18 due to an absence of compatible bone marrow donors

Dian Kazandjian’s personal life crossed over into her professional life at San Pathology, Sydney Adventist Hospital after her 15-year-old son, Sean developed two mysterious lumps in his neck.

As soon as her doctor had performed a blood test on Sean, Dian delivered the blood by hand to her colleagues at San Pathology. Within the space of 4.5 hours, Sean’s illness had been diagnosed as Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. A Haematologist organised for Sean to be admitted to the Oncology Ward, at the Children’s Hospital Westmead NSW. Sean was treated with chemotherapy for the remainder of that year and received the ‘all clear’ just before Christmas. He returned to school and completed year 11 in 2013 and then mid-year 12 exams in 2014.

In April 2014 Sean relapsed and his family was told that a stem cell transplant was his best chance to survive. Although this operation had the potential to cure Sean’s leukaemia, he was still at risk of either relapsing again or suffering Graft versus Host Disease (the process where the donor’s and patient’s white blood cells start attacking each other).

Transplant coordinators launched an international donor search at the Children’s Hospital Westmead. After several weeks of searching no compatible bone marrow donor could be found. The transplant coordinators then commenced a search for a suitable cord blood donor and found the closest matching cord blood donor in France. Although the match was not fully compatible there was no other option found and the process began to use this donor’s cord blood stem cells for the transplant.

The cord blood stem cell transplant was performed on 1 September 2014. Within 11 days donor white cells were detectable in Sean’s blood. At the 2-week post-transplant mark, Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD) started to emerge as Sean became more unwell.

During the ensuing nine months, the GvHD continued to wreak havoc with Sean’s body as it attacked multiple sites in his body including his lungs, skin, gastrointestinal tract, eyes and bladder. He needed multiple potent immunosuppressive medications to limit the damage done by the GvHD. However, in April 2015, the immunosuppressive drugs were no longer able to contain the GvHD and the symptoms intensified. Sean finally lost his battle with leukaemia and GvHD and passed away in the Oncology Ward on 24 May 2015 at the age of 18.

The personal experience of Sean’s diagnosis and illness has left an indelible impression on Dian’s family regarding the value of pathology in the diagnosis and laboratory monitoring of Sean’s illness. Dian commented:

“As a parent and fellow colleague, I have seen firsthand the tremendous dedication and hard work of the pathology staff at San Pathology, Children’s Hospital laboratory, Red Cross Blood Bank and the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry in providing a caring and quality service to all patients.”

“In addition, Sean received the most wonderful care at the Children’s Hospital Westmead where he was treated by the Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant teams as well as many of the hospital’s extensive services. Throughout Sean’s treatment at the hospital, our little family with Sean being our only child, were supported and cared for in the most nurturing of ways.”