discoveries magazine

Good Blood

Bone marrow transplant recipient Kevin McDevitt

Illustration: David Mahoney

Kevin McDevitt credits Cedars-Sinai's Dr. Michael Lill for saving his life with an innovative blood marrow transplant procedure.

Kevin McDevitt calls his lime-green, 1979 Volkswagen Westfalia Camper "my hippie dream." 

It sounded more like a fever dream to his wife, Stephanie. It was 2015, and the idea of buying a vintage van and taking a road trip came to McDevitt while he was spending a month in an isolation room at Cedars-Sinai, anxiously waiting for daily blood tests to show that his bone marrow transplant had worked. 

This was not how their first year of marriage was supposed to go.

Just three months after their July 2014 wedding, McDevitt, then 32, was diagnosed with two rare and dangerous blood disorders—severe aplastic anemia and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. He had been struggling with fatigue for a year and a half, and also had mysterious bruises on his body. 

McDevitt ended up in the care of Michael Lill, MD, who established the Cedars-Sinai Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and directed it for more than two decades, until his death from cancer in 2018. 

"Dr. Lill was a brilliant human being who guided me through the whole treatment process and left no stone unturned," McDevitt says. 

Lill introduced the allogeneic transplant procedure to Cedars-Sinai, enabling patients whose own blood cells are too diseased to use as replacement cells to receive healthy blood cells from relatives or strangers. Cedars-Sinai has become a leader in performing allogeneic "half-match" transplants using donors who are not a perfect match along with chemotherapy to increase the odds of success. With more modern transplant methods, one-year allogeneic transplant survivals have improved from 65% to 90%.

In McDevitt’s case, it turned out there was a perfect match—his sister, Meghan, who stepped up to be his donor without hesitation. 

McDevitt faced many long, challenging days as he slowly recovered. But now he can say he’s "99.99% disease free."

"Dr. Lill saved my life, period. He cured me," McDevitt says. 

He celebrated his recovery with two bold actions.

He and Stephanie produced and starred in a widely viewed, award-winning music video called "Good Blood"—a parody of Taylor Swift’s popular song "Bad Blood"—to encourage people to become bone marrow donors through the national Be the Match registry.

Once the video took off, it was time for the McDevitts to do the same. They bought that "hippie dream" VW van and spent the summer of 2016 traveling around the western U.S. 

Today, McDevitt, who lives in Ojai, California, is writing a book about his transplant experience. He is also immersed in a new role as the proud father of a blue-eyed boy named Dylan. Stephanie gave birth to their son—"our little miracle"—on June 30, 2019. 

Giving back is also a priority for McDevitt. He leads scuba diving and bicycling trips for the nonprofit First Descents, which offers free outdoor adventures for young adults fighting cancer and other serious illnesses.

The message he most wants to share with others: "We are all much stronger than we think. When you accept the situation you’re facing, it gets easier. Humor helps, too. Even during the toughest times, Stephanie and I laugh every day."