'Doing something good for a living'

MaryJoy Lopez has seen the good, the sad and the fulfilled promise of bone-marrow transplants; and she's glad she's here
MaryJoy Lopez
MaryJoy Lopez, a data coordinator with the Long-Term Follow-Up program for half of her 30 years at the Center, said she has enjoyed working at the hub of cutting-edge science. Photo by Ignacio Lobos

When MaryJoy Lopez joined the Hutchinson Center in 1977, her father questioned the decision.

"My father is a physician and he wondered why I would want to work here because bone-marrow transplants were so out of the mainstream at the time," Lopez said.

Lopez soon began to share her dad's doubts. "I sometimes wondered if I should stay because in the early days so many patients didn't make it," she said.

But Lopez did stay — for 30 years. And as the Center achieved more and more success with bone-marrow transplants, her father eventually changed his mind. "Years later he said, 'I guess you knew what you were doing,'" Lopez said.

Lopez spent the first 10 years of her Center career as a clinical assistant. A friend who was already working here, Carla Olson, had encouraged her to apply.

Later, Lopez worked as a patient liaison between the Center, then located in the Columbia Tower on First Hill, and Swedish Medical Center, which hosted a 20-bed transplant unit across the street. Today, she is a data coordinator with the Long-Term Follow-Up program, where she's been for 15 years.

"I love the people I work with and the mission of the program — taking care of patients even after they leave here," she said. "I like doing something good for a living and this is good. Plus the Center is just such a great place to work."

The early days

Lopez came here after receiving training as a lab tech, but having never worked in the lab. As a clinical assistant, she was one of the first people patients met when they arrived at the Center. "We were the hub," said Lopez, who did everything from answering the phone to helping nurses with blood draws to taking patient families on outings. "It was pretty exciting to be part of something that was so cutting edge and could save lives," she said.

Lopez recalls going on rounds with the doctors and listening as they discussed each patient. "One thing about the early days of the Center was that we were really encouraged to learn as much as we could about the work being done here," she said.

That knowledge came in handy when Lopez made the leap to LTFU. The LTFU program helps bone-marrow and stem-cell transplant patients deal with any problems that arise after they return home. It also engages in research, monitoring patients and collecting data for as long as they are willing to participate.

As a data coordinator, Lopez supports several LTFU research studies. "Going on rounds when I first joined the Center helped me learn to read charts and extract information, which is a big part of my job now," she said.

GVHD study

Judith Campbell, a longtime LFTU clinical nurse, said Lopez's experience gives her a broad perspective. "She's a very good research coordinator who has a knack for communicating with people," Campbell said. "She's a pleasure to work with. We all love her."

Lopez currently works with a multi-site study led by Dr. Paul Martin. The study, which continues to enroll patients, is investigating the use of mycophenolate mofteil to suppress graft?vs.-host disease. "I especially like working on this study because I've seen over the years how bad chronic graft-vs.-host disease can be for patients," Lopez said. "It feels good to be involved in a project that addresses that problem."

While Lopez is not a nurse, she has a acquired an exceptional understanding of GVHD that makes her an extremely valuable member of the LFTU team, said Peggy Adams Myers, LTFU research project manager. "MaryJoy is extremely dedicated to the Center and she really cares about the patients," Adams Myers said. "Those two things are what drive her and make her good at what she does."

Lopez enjoys her contact with patients on the phone and when they return for check-ups — especially when it involves long-time survivors. "I really admire the patients who had transplants 30 years ago when I started working here," she said. "They were pioneers, and I look forward to seeing those early patients at the big reunions every five years."

Continuing to work with colleagues from "the good old days" is another enjoyable part of the job, Lopez said. "I like the fact there are other people who've also worked here a long time," she said. "There's a lot of camaraderie. I'm just very happy to be here."

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