ROCHESTER, Minn – A Minnesota woman, who was the first bone marrow transplant recipient at Mayo Clinic in 1963, returned to Rochester more than five decades after her procedure to visit the doctor who performed the transplant.
Nancy McLain, 62, of Prior Lake, reunited Dr. Robert Kyle, 87, who is still with Mayo Clinic's Hematology and Internal Medicine department today.
"I'm very grateful to here with a second chance at life," said McLain.
McLain underwent her transplant 52 years ago and is now considered the longest surviving bone marrow transplant recipient in the United States. She underwent a transplant at age 10 after suffering from aplastic anemia, a disorder that attacked and deteriorated her bone marrow.
"I had received my last rites twice so as a child I knew I was dying," said McLain. "My mother had a count of 98 total blood transfusions before they did the transplant."
Dr. Kyle came to see McLain's family to discuss her last hope: a bone marrow transplant that had never been successfully done at Mayo before. That's when Dr. Kyle inquired about another little girl running around, McLain's sister, Bonnie.
"That was the critical point, and it was actually kind of accidental, if I hadn't asked who this other little girl was, because Nancy's facial features were such that one would not recognize the two girls as twins," said Dr. Kyle.
Steroid and hormone medications thought to boost the bone marrow had taken a toll on McLain's appearance, but the girls were identical twins, making the perfect match for McLain's second chance.
"Nancy is me, it was a very easy decision to make," said Bonnie Engesmoe, her identical twin, who today lives in their hometown of Canby, Minnesota.
"I was all for it, I wanted my twin back," said Engesmoe.
A successful transplant gave McLain the chance to live a full life. Today, she is a retired school teacher, married with two grown children and two grandchildren. She's an avid horseback rider, goes on frequent mission trips, and through her faith, counsels prison inmates. Most of all, she's in perfect health.
"A strong believer in the Lord, trying to make this world a better place," said McLain. "Living a full life, my husband and I still downhill ski, water ski and rollerblade, we do it all. I hope my story inspires other people who are about to have a bone marrow transplant."
"And, I still have my twin," added Engesmoe.
A first for Mayo Clinic became twice the blessing for the sisters, who remain inseparable today.
"It's been a long story, but one that turned out very, very well," said Dr. Kyle.
Dr. Kyle said Mayo Clinic performs 500-600 bone marrow transplants every year. In the United States each year, an estimated 14,000 people receive bone marrow transplants from relatives or a stranger.
In Minnesota, the Be the Match organization completes an estimated 6,000 matches a year, with 12.5 million people in the registry. Seventy percent of patients do not have a donor in their family, and the organization focuses on finding more donors to fill a critical need between the ages of 18 to 44-year-olds, along with potential donors who are ethnically and racially diverse. You can join the bone marrow registry here.