'Be the Match' for a Person with Blood Cancer

About a week and a half ago, I attended a Be the Match drive in honor of Deb Boardman, an Old Lyme mother battling leukemia.  She is in need of a stem cell transplant. 

I learned that "match" events aren't just held to help one person.  In going, registering and getting swabbed, a participant is agreeing to become part of a registry that could help anyone out there in need.

"Be the Match started in 1987," says Community Engagement Representative Betsie Letterle, explaining that the group helps patients with life-threatening blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma, and other diseases like sickle cell anemia.  "We help find a cure for many of those patients. We connect those patients with donors who can offer a life-saving marrow or stem cell transplant."

We know a lot about blood donation - even organ donation.  But, Letterle believes a lot of people aren't aware of the facts and realities surrounding marrow and stem cell donation.

Patients need an HLA tissue-type match.  7 out of 10 people do not find a match in their family.  Folks who attend a drive must be between the ages of 18 and 44.  They fill-out paperwork, profess commitment to the process and proceed with a swab of the cheek.  Then, the potential donor may receive a call.

"There are 2 types of donations.  About 80-percent of the time, we're going to ask for a peripheral blood stem cell donation and that is taken from a vein in the donor's arm and it's very similar to a platelet or plasma donation.  The difference is: that donor would receive a shot of medication that helps the blood form lots more cells than it forms on a daily basis," explains Letterle, noting that recovery time is minimal, enabling donors to return to work the next day.  "The secondary donation is when they take marrow from the back of the hip.  The donor is under anesthesia."  Letterle thinks people often believe what they see in fictionalized TV dramas when it comes to this process.  Cick here to learn about myths versus facts.  Don't be scared, says Letterle.  Donors may feel a low level back ache.  "But they're up walking around usually that afternoon and back to work in a day or two," she says.

86,066 Connecticut residents have joined the registry.  406 have donated marrow or stem cells.  "In finding a match, we really need to have diverse ethnic backgrounds on the registry," says Letterle.  "It's so important to join the registry because the cure for many patients is out there.  The cure might be you....The public has the power to change someone's life and save someone's life."

You can join online or attend a local drive like I did.  It was quick and easy.  I left there feeling like I was doing something extremely worthwhile.  Drives are coming up in Exeter, Rhode Island and Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Keep an eye on this link for CT events.







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