Two years ago, my family was blessed with an incredible gift from a complete and total stranger. Someone just like you. Thanks to their registration with the Be The Match Registry® and selfless donation, my father-in-law found his perfect match – receiving a life saving stem cell transplant, sending his leukemia into remission, and giving my children a chance to know their Grandpa. The more people who join the Be The Match Registry®, the more possible matches for patients and the higher the bone marrow transplant success rate. Learn more about my family’s story, an 11-year old girl still searching for her perfect match, and how you can be a family’s miracle.
A Tale of Two New Lives
In 2015, my in-laws spent their first winter at their new home in Florida. That same winter, my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our third child – our first boy – long planned to be named after Grandpa.
Their first week back in New England, Grandma made the rounds to see all her grandchildren, while Grandpa began preparations for turkey season. In his late 60s, he was living retirement to the fullest and in the best shape of his life. He ran and had begun biking regularly in Florida. He swam, bow hunted, sailed, and took his dogs on daily treks on the wooded trails surrounding their home.
When he became winded just walking up their driveway, he thought he was simply readjusting to the change in altitude. The next day, when he couldn’t make it up the hill he walked regularly with his dogs, he worried he might be having a heart attack.
A Shocking Diagnosis
A quick trip to the hospital, turned into 3 days of testing and finally a diagnosis… leukemia. Our family was stunned, heartbroken. But ready to fight. The quick trip to the hospital turned into a weeks long stay, and included his first of eventually three rounds of chemotherapy. As he recovered, his doctors used all their resources and our family leveraged all our contacts to figure out the next step: a transfer to Memorial Sloan Kettering and a stem cell transplant.
Cancer treatment advances more everyday. Today, they can test the genetic composition of cancer cells. My father-in-law’s leukemia was caused by a specific genetic mutation, making recurrence highly likely. A stem cell transplant would replace his existing immune system with an entirely new one – and if successful, put his cancer into complete remission.
Marrow transplants can be a life-saving treatment for more than 70 diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia. While family members are often looked to as the first source for donation, 70% of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family. A bone marrow transplant success rate is highly predicated on matching a patient with as close a genetically matched donor as possible. The Be the Match Registry® helps doctors match patients with perfect donors, though many times they settle for as close a match as they can find.
Join the Be The Match Registry®
Biological siblings are typically the first potential source of bone marrow donation. The likelihood of a sibling being a match is only 25%… but my father-in-law’s one sister was! However, her age made her a non-ideal donor. Young adults are most needed as donors. The younger a person is, the healthier their bone marrow – making them a better possible match for patients.
During this process, all our family members joined the registry. It only takes seconds with a simple cheek swab. Visit join4kami.org to see how you can join the registry and learn more. While none of us were a match for my father-in-law, a young man a few states over was his perfect match.
A Stranger Made Our Family’s Miracle
A total stranger registering with Be The Match and donating through a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation made our family’s miracle. This donation process is a lot less painful than many people think. Most donations are now made through a blood draw – a machine draws blood from one arm, extracts the cells it needs, and returns the remaining blood back to your body through your other arm. In some cases, marrow may have to be extracted directly from the back of your pelvic bone with a needle. In this instance, you will be anesthetized and feel no pain during the procedure, with complete recovery within a few weeks.
My father-in-law’s donor gave his cells at a hospital near him, where they were frozen and transported to MSK. They were then transplanted through an IV drip over the course of half an hour, beginning a long recovery as his new immune system grew. Grandpa had his transplant just days before I gave birth to our son… his namesake.
As we approach my son’s second birthday, we also approach the two year anniversary of Grandpa’s new life. In those two years, he has spent more time than ever with his family and grandchildren. From holidays to baseball games, dance recitals to archery lessons at his direction, countless trips to Bass Pro Shop and birthday parties – including his own 70th hunting-themed surprise party! Every outing and occasion with Grandpa is a true gift, one none of us take for granted. We also all remain members of the Be The Match Registry®, to someday give someone the same gift our family was so blessed with.
While my father-in-law found his perfect match, Kamryn, an 11 year old girl with sickle cell anemia, is still searching for hers. Kamryn had five matches on the registry, but they were either unwilling or medically unable to donate. The registry needs members committed to donating when needed. Too often, registry members called as a match turn out to be “not interested,” a heartbreaking outcome for patients and their families.
Learn more about Kamryn’s story below, and sign up to join the registry at join4kami.org.
If you could save just one life, give a family a miracle, wouldn’t you? You don’t have to wait to save a life through organ donation – you can do it by joining the Be The Match Registry® and being a bone marrow donor today. Join in honor of someone you love who has been or may be touched by leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell, or #Join4Kami and be her family’s miracle.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.