Bay Area woman inspired by Roberts' MDS battle

February 19, 2013 12:27:02 PM PST
Robin Roberts will return to 'Good Morning America' on Wednesday after her grueling fight with a dangerous disease. She's been off the air since August, but when Roberts sits down at the anchor desk again she'll have some fans that can identify with what she's gone through.

Joan Banic of Campbell became an avid viewer of morning television last summer when Roberts announced her new fight against a dangerous blood disease.

"When you have a bone marrow transplant you don't have an immune system for a while and you're very susceptible to infection," said Roberts on 'GMA.'

"When I heard that I ran to the TV and watched what she was talking about and I could relate to what she was going through because I had a bone marrow transplant a year and a half ago," said Banic.

Banic and Roberts both have myelodysplastic syndrome -- a disease where the bone marrow no longer makes enough healthy blood cells. Dr. Peter Greenberg is a blood specialist at Stanford Hospital.

"About 90 percent of patients have it where it comes by itself, but about 10 percent comes as a result of them having received chemotherapy or radio therapy for another disease," said Dr. Greenberg.

As Roberts did in an earlier fight against cancer, Banic's disease on the other hand had been building for years until one night about 10 years ago, when her hands and feet became painful and swollen.

"They did a blood test and sent me to the hospital and I needed five units of blood," said Banic.

Since then this once active, independent woman has begun using a wheelchair and needs assistance from her family and a caregiver. But, she has become a tireless advocate for research into treatments and a cure.

"That means studying the bone marrow cells and when they find out the secrets of the bone marrow cells they're going to find out the secret to so many cures for other cancers as well," said Banic.

"One of the treatments for this disease is bone marrow transplantation. One of the difficulties there is to find an appropriate donor, which isn't always possible," said Dr. Greenberg.

MDS is a rare disease. It strikes 10,000 to 15,000 people a year. That's part of the reason it doesn't get much attention or research money. But, both Banic and Dr. Greenberg hope the attention Roberts is bringing to MDS will change that.


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