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Press Release

Behind the Scenes of Connecting the Dots With Liz Astl


Liz Astl, 39, grew up playing video games ("gaming") with her older brothers in the quaint small town of Matzen just outside of Vienna. Now she's passing along the hobby to her three children. "I think they're learning good skills — teamwork, team play," she says. "They learn how to take a virtual tumble and deal with failure when things don't go as planned. They learn how to confront their fears — virtually."

liz.pngLiz put these life skills to use when her brother Michael Astl suddenly fell ill with leukemia in late 2022. Michael, a once robust police officer, was covered in a rash and barely able to walk. "Everybody gets sick," says Liz. "But he was proper sick — we knew something was terribly wrong."

After two rounds of chemotherapy, the doctors realized Michael was going to need a stem cell transplant. Liz's other brother registered to be a donor but wasn't a match — Liz was, although she needed some iron infusions to boost her hemoglobin levels before she could donate.

Under the care of Dr. Nina Worel at the Transfusion Medicine and Cell Therapy Department of the Medical University of Vienna, Liz underwent a multi-phase procedure.

First, Liz was injected with a medication that induces an overproduction of stem cells, which collected in her bloodstream. The procedure may cause side effects such as back pain, muscle aches, headaches, or fatigue — also a sign of successful stem cell production — issues that usually disappear within a couple of days after the injections.

Second, she was hooked up to a Spectra Optia® Apheresis System. The Spectra Optia drew blood from one of Liz's arms and used continuous-flow centrifugation and optical detection technology to separate the blood components and stem cells, while continuously reinfusing the remaining blood components in her other arm.

"I found it fascinating," says Liz. "They showed me the machines. I was asking tons of questions. I had what seemed like 5,000 cables in and out of my body. I felt like a cyborg."

Later, the stem cells were transfused into Michael, and after approximately 100 days of waiting, doctors were not able to detect any more cancer cells.

At first, Liz was hesitant to tell her story for the Connecting the Dots video — caught up in a mix of conflicting thoughts and emotions. "I was very insecure about telling anybody about it because I have issues with people thinking, 'Oh, you saved somebody,'" she explains. "I am self-conscious about mentioning it to people — I don't want people to think I'm something special — it's not about me. On the other hand, shouldn't I be proud that I was able to help someone?"

Now, Liz has become vocal in asking people to get evaluated for stem cell donor suitability. She says, "if you have the opportunity, take the test and save somebody's life. The answers lie within us — with our blood and with ourselves. We have the power to heal others."

At the same time, Michael's leukemia triggered introspection, gratitude, and zest for life in Michael and his sister. For Michael, the experience prompted him to reconnect with a daughter he hadn't seen in 10 years. For Liz, it encouraged her to start checking things off her bucket list — in real life, not virtually.

What's at the top of the list? She wants to take her kids to the beach — a place they've never been. The other top item? She says, "I want to jump out of a plane."

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