It’s been over a year since my older sister Anna died, so I choke up less readily while speaking about it. The raw anger is less, but the frustration of losing someone to a preventable medical mistake will always remain with me. Anna was five years older than me, my only sister, and the one I often turned to for advice. We were close despite living 600+ miles apart. She was smart and insightful; she was at ease in most social situations. I, on the other hand, was the nerdy kid sister who loved science, who became a physician in my early 40s.
In 2012, Anna’s world turned upside down when she was diagnosed with bone marrow failure (myelodysplastic syndrome) at 58. This disease stemmed from her previous treatment for breast cancer. At the time of diagnosis, everything else in her life seemed to be going well. She loved being a (single) mom; she had a wonderful job; and they had just adopted an adorable Lab. She actually felt great.
After testing showed she was fit to withstand the rigors of a transplant, including a thorough cardiac evaluation, she had a bone marrow transplant in early 2013 at a well-respected teaching hospital. Anna did fine initially. But, seven months after her transplant she began to have odd neurologic symptoms and five months after that, chest pain. When she told me about her chest pain, I told her she had to go to the ER. Instead, she elected to ask her treating physician about her chest pain. He recommended antacids.