Broward County

Mother, 29, dies after hope-giving transplant

A 29-year-old woman suffering from leukemia has died, nearly four months after a bone marrow transplant made possible by an outpouring of community support, a family friend said Monday.

Diana Smith, a real estate worker who lived in Sunrise, died Saturday at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, said her friend, Tom Noonan.

"She fought hard but the complications following the bone marrow transplant were too much for her," he said.

Smith and her fiancé, Eddie Velez, have a 3-year-old son named Cameron, according to Noonan.

After Smith got her transplant in late April or early May, she received treatment regularly at Jackson, Noonan said.

Doctors told her the first 100 days after the transplant "were the most critical time for her, and this was almost at 100 days," he said.

The events that followed Smith's leukemia diagnosis in July 2009 challenged her, Noonan said.

She was pregnant at the time, and doctors told her she would need an abortion because the fetus would not survive chemotherapy.

Smith's fiancé planned to sell his valuable comic book collection to help pay for the treatments, but the estimated 800 comics, some of which were worth up to $1,000, were stolen in August from his Ohio home. The thief was never caught, she told the Sun Sentinel in March.

Smith was able to afford the transplant after friends learned of her hardship in late January and set up a fundraising campaign that brought in about $133,000, Noonan said.

Her procedure cost about $40,000. The leftover money, held by the New York-based Bone Marrow Foundation, will go toward fulfilling Smith's wish: to help another Broward County resident whose life may depend on a similar operation.

"I know it was really hard for me to collect the money, so I want to help someone else," Smith told the Sun Sentinel in March. "If it wasn't for my friends and people donating, I wouldn't have been able to do it."

Former Miami Dolphins player Kim Bokamper and other celebrities attended a fundraiser for her in March. Supporters also set up a money-raising website, and left collection jars at restaurants and bars.

"Everything fell into place," Noonan said. "There were so many people involved."

Legislators also knew of Smith.

When she encountered a problem with her Medicaid coverage before the transplant, staffers for U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, and state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, stepped in to help resolve the issue.

No one involved in Smith's fundraising effort has access to the unused donations, according to Jason Hare, patient program coordinator for the Bone Marrow Foundation.

After all of Smith's medical bills are paid, "the funds that aren't used will go, per her wishes, to another person in Broward County," Hare said.

Sun Sentinel staff writer Rachel Hatzipanagos contributed to this story.

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