RICHMOND, Ind. – An all-day event at Reid Health on May 20 will give community members an opportunity to join “Be the Match,” the world’s largest and most diverse registry of potential bone marrow donors. Joining the registry takes only 10 minutes and involves providing a cheek swab.
A bone marrow transplant is a procedure to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy stem cells found in the bone marrow. Bone marrow transplants save thousands of lives a year, helping people recover from certain cancers and blood diseases, such as sickle cell anemia. About 70 percent of patients in need do not have a matching donor in their family. They rely on bone marrow registries to find an unrelated donor or an umbilical cord blood unit.
Those who are interested in registering as a possible bone marrow donor should be between the ages of 18 and 44, be willing to donate to any patient in need and meet certain health guidelines. Some conditions prevent people from joining the registry, including hepatitis, most forms of heart disease or cancer, diabetes and significant obesity.
Reid Health has hosted bone marrow registry events before, but this is the first one initiated by Abby Page, an operating room nurse at the hospital. Page became aware of the importance of bone marrow donation when a fellow Reid nurse, Cecilia Crowe, was diagnosed with lymphoma last year.
“Cecelia’s cancer wasn’t responding to treatment, and no one in her family was a match for bone marrow donation,” Page said. “I joined the registry, hoping I would be a match for Cecelia, and then I thought everyone should have the same opportunity. You never know who you might be able to help.”
Although Page’s bone marrow was not a match for Crowe, Crowe has since been matched with a donor and plans to have her transplant in June.
Another Reid employee, Carrie Miles, joined Be the Match in college. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that she had the opportunity to donate bone marrow.
“In 2012, Be the Match called to say that my bone marrow was a match for a 33-year-old man with aplastic anemia,” Miles said. “I had to travel to Indianapolis for a thorough physical and testing, and then in November of that year I returned to Indianapolis for a procedure to remove a small amount of bone marrow from my hip bone. All of my expenses were covered, and I was able to return to work about five days after the procedure.”
Miles received word about a year later that the man who received her bone marrow was thriving. Looking back, she says she would donate again in a heartbeat.
“The inconveniences of being a bone marrow donor are so minor compared to the impact it can make in the recipient’s life,” she explained. “If I or someone I loved ever needed a transplant, I would be so thankful that someone else stepped up to help.”
Another Reid employee, Dave Oakley, is hoping that he will one day have the opportunity to donate his bone marrow to someone in need. Five years ago, he learned first-hand just how important a bone marrow transplant can be when his wife, Tammy, who also worked for Reid Health in Patient Financial Services, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Doctors determined that her best chance for survival was a bone marrow transplant. She was approved for the procedure, but died of an infection before it could take place.
“I joined the registry 15 years ago, but I didn’t realize how important it was until Tammy got sick,” he said. “I encourage everyone to register, because cancer or another blood disease could strike you or someone you love quickly and out of nowhere, and you will find out the hard way how important it really is.”
The bone marrow registry drive will be held in Lingle Hall at Reid Health on May 20 from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the hospital’s May Community Blood Center Blood Drive. Participants can come to join the registry, give blood, or both. Appointments for blood donation (not bone marrow registry) are recommended, and available by calling 800-388-GIVE (4483).