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A Closer Look

January 28, 2016 | Jessica Pasley

Photo by Joe Howell

Photo by Joe Howell

It’s been nearly 20 years since Linda McVay was given 44 pages of job listings for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Determined, she read every single one hoping to find anything related to oncology. Finally on page 43 she saw the words she was searching for—medical oncology.

McVay was working in a dental office after having just moved to Tennessee. She missed interacting with cancer patients as she had done at her prior job in Florida as a program coordinator at the Okaloosa Cancer Care Center.

She submitted her resume, interviewed and was hired as an assistant research coordinator at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Today she serves as the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Coordinator/Stem Cell Transplantation at Vanderbilt.

The same level of commitment McVay showed as she scoured page after page looking for a compatible job is now a useful tool in her interactions with patients in need of stem cell transplantation and their families.

She and her team are responsible for searching the national database for donors, initiating the process for family members to be typed for potential donors and facilitating the transfer of products to and from the transplant center. She has traveled to Germany, Netherlands, England, and all over the United States to courier cells to and from recipients and donors.

“We are one of the first points of contact for patients,” said McVay. “They have loads of questions. They are scared. We try to alleviate fears, be proactive about possible concerns and educate patients and families about the journey ahead.

“It has by far been one of the best jobs I have ever had. There are days that are really tough, but there are some incredibly rewarding ones.

“We are invested in our patients. We want to do everything possible for a good outcome, whether that’s finding them a donor or getting pertinent information to the right place. Sometimes it’s just spending the necessary time with them answering questions.”

Her approach is to treat every patient as she would want a family member treated.

“If we can provide that one-on-one interaction with our patients and families, then they feel more confident in Vanderbilt, the Cancer Center and our staff,” McVay said. “They will have a much better overall experience going into transplant.

“We want them to feel comfortable and confident in us. That’s incredibly important to me.”

Vanderbilt’s Stem Cell Transplant Program was established in 1980 and has been an NMDP transplant center since 1990 serving as a collection and apheresis center for transplants from all over the world. Categorized as a large center, Vanderbilt transplanted nearly 400 patients in 2014.

Coordinators typically see both sides of the transplant spectrum—helping donors and recipients. During her tenure as the coordinator, McVay said she was blessed to donate cells.

“Ten years ago I became a donor and it was one of the best days of my life,” she said. “I joined the registry soon after I began at Vanderbilt. It was something I had been wanting to do.

“It’s amazing because I was the only perfect match for my recipient. I remember after we met, his wife telling me that they were concerned that I might change my mind.

“I told them that they were actually fulfilling a dream of mine by allowing me to be the donor,” McVay said. “In reality, I had been searching for them a lot longer than they had been searching for me.”


  1. I’m so impressed with you, your work & your donation. I always wanted to donate stem cells but wasn’t sure how to go about it. But I’m 57 now & heard I’m too old. Is this true? I have always been a donor on my drivers license & wanted to do more. My husband is on the lung transplant list at Vanderbilt & waiting for a set of lungs from a kind donor. He is type B blood so I imagine that’s why we’ve been waiting almost a year. Best of luck to you in your job & life. Janice

    Comment by Janice Snider — February 11, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

  2. Thank God for you and for all the other wonderful donors and the selflessness that they display. My husband received stem cells last March and he is doing great. The donor’s gift to me is waking up each morning next to this bundle of energy. We are greatful for each day and so very thankful for the work and dedication of everyone at Vanderbilt Stem Cell Clinic.
    Larry and Lois Brabston

    Comment by Lois Brabston — February 11, 2016 @ 10:21 pm

  3. Thank you so much Janice. Unfortunately, the upper age limit to get on the unrelated donor registry is 44. It is very thoughtful of you to be thinking about signing up, given your current situation. I hope your husband gets his lungs soon. You and he will both be in my prayers! Linda

    Comment by Linda McVay — February 12, 2016 @ 7:32 am

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