ST. LOUIS - For 17 years, John DiPersio, MD, PhD, has been drawing doodles on scraps of paper. He has turned many of these drawings into a unique T-shirt design for each annual bone marrow transplant (BMT) patient celebration. Dr. DiPersio is deputy director of the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and division of oncology chief.
Last year, all of the patient celebration T-shirts were transformed into a quilt, made by Becky Wasilewski, transplant coordinator for BMT patients, and presented to Dr. DiPersio. In May, the quilt was framed and is now being displayed on the 7th floor of the Center for Advanced Medicine.
“We had to track down all of the previous T-shirts from past celebrations to make sure each year was represented,” says Linda Laub, RN, MSN, nurse manager, outpatient BMT, leukemia & lymphoma. “This quilt is a great gesture by our staff to give back to Dr. DiPersio and thank him for his dedication to the patients and the program.”
One of the ways Dr. DiPersio dedicates himself to the BMT unit is by giving them a mascot. Dr. Dipersio’s most prominent doodle design has morphed into the BMT division’s unofficial mascot, known as Stem Cell Man.
“I draw a lot of doodles, and I’m always drawing cells,” says Dr. DiPersio. “The first year of the event, we invited about 50 patients and I thought it would be fun to make T-shirts for them.”
The first T-shirt design featured Stem Cell Man, who is recognized by BMT patients and is usually featured on the sleeve of the annual T-shirt. Through the years, not only has the BMT program grown from about 20 transplants per year to about 400, but the patient celebration also has grown from 50 people to more than 500.
“This event is a mixture between a spectacular party and an awe-inspiring event,” says Dr. DiPersio. “It’s a reminder to our patients that they are alive. To see others who have gone through the same thing is something our patients look forward to all year. It’s just packed.”
Dr. DiPersio says he started this event years ago to do something nice for his patients, but he didn’t imagine how large it would become.
“As a health care provider, I see people most often when they’re sick, and I forget how many people are doing well,” he says. “This event is an annual reminder of how many people we’ve touched and allowed to return to normal, productive lives.”
Laub says Dr. DiPersio wanted to have the quilt framed and placed on display to show his gratitude for the quilt.
“As a constant reminder of previous patients and the patient celebration, the quilt is now permanently on display for new patients, visitors and employees to demonstrate the impact Dr. Dipersio has on the program,” says Laub.
The 17th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Patient Celebration will take place Aug. 28.