Be the Match event finds local donor

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Michael Lane, of Marquette, was pretty proud of being a marrow cell donor in late August. He joined the Be the Match registry in January and, seven months later, gave a donation to a 74-year-old man with stage five leukemia.

Michael said the donation process was so simple. It took six hours but it was painless and he kept busy on his laptop the entire time.

By Correne Martin

Just seven months after a Be the Match registration drive was held in Prairie du Chien on behalf of hometown native Carl Shedivy, a young man who registered at that event actually donated bone marrow.

Thanks to the Jan. 31 registration drive, Michael Lane, 21, of Marquette, signed up and, just three weeks later, he was notified that he was a potential match for somebody in need. Then, after testing that determined he was a 100 percent match, he donated at UW-Madison on Aug. 24 to a 74-year-old man who had stage five leukemia. The donation process is confidential for at least the first year after donation.

“My aunt (Beth Fitzl) actually told me about the drive,” Michael said. “I lost my other aunt to leukemia, so I guess that’s why I signed up.”

Not truly believing he could be a perfect match, let alone be selected to go through the donation process, Michael was surprised to get a phone call from Julie Tilbury, a regional donor contact and manager of Be the Match Rock River Valley Blood Center in Rockford, Ill. She told Michael he was a potential match for somebody needing bone marrow and helped him set up an appointment, about two weeks later, at Crossing Rivers Health in Prairie du Chien to withdraw blood, take chest x-rays and test his heart.

“They also made sure I was the right tissue type to donate,” Michael stated. “Six weeks later, I was told I was a 100 percent match. A week after that, I had more blood testing.”

Finally, the appointment was planned at UW-Madison for the bone marrow donation.

“I wasn’t scared,” he noted.

The donation process took Michael less than six hours and involved “a needle in the main vein on one arm and another one in my right arm. It separated my bone marrow from my blood and then put the blood right back into my body.” He was awake during the entire procedure and kept busy on his laptop computer the whole while. He said he felt somewhat tired and weak afterward, but overall he was impressed with how easy it was.

“It’s not that hard. It’s not really painful. It’s like donating blood, pretty simple,” he explained.

In total, Michael, with his aunt Beth by his side, spent a couple days in the hospital, before and after the procedure. But then he was able to go home and back to work—at Walmart in Prairie du Chien.
As a donor, there was no cost to Michael and he was reimbursed for gas, mileage and food. His hospital and hotel stays were covered as well. According to Julie, it costs the National Marrow Donor Program/Be the Match $100 to add someone to the registry. “We do a lot of fundraising,” she noted.

Being the perfect match for someone in need isn’t always the case for those who register with the National Marrow Donor Program. When a person is deemed a match, it’s often not for five to 15 years after they initially register. Michael’s case, in which he was basically called upon right away, is quite rare. “They say that never happens,” he said.

“It all went very fast for Michael. Some people join and are on the registry for years before they have a match or some people are not a match at all,” Julie stated.

In one year, Michael will have the opportunity to get into contact with the patient who received his bone marrow cells. Both parties have to consent to the contact however. Julie said many patients and donors have developed great relationships through the program.

Now that he’s given, Michael’s name will stay on the registry for the possibility of donation to one more patient, but then it will be taken off the list for life. He could be asked to donate a few more cells to the 74-year-old patient, but that isn’t a common occurrence.

According to Julie, there are over 12,000 people on the waiting list every year, searching for a 100 percent match. Only one in four will have a match within their own family because blood type doesn’t play as high of a role in marrow cell transplants as tissue type does. About half of those in need will get the transplants that could help cure their disease.

“It depends on age, how long they’ve had the disease, what disease they have, their overall health and how quickly we find a match,” she pointed out. “Science is improving every day and our rates of curing are also improving every day.”

Patients have a much greater chance of a successful transplant from younger donors, which is why the age recommendation is 18 to 44 for live drives like the one on behalf of Shedivy. Citizens ages 45 to 60 can join the registry, yet, Julie said, they must go through the online portal and also pay a tissue typing fee.

“Those who are older might be able to help a patient, but not as greatly as if they were 25,” she said.

Anyone interested in joining the Be the Match registry is encouraged to visit, click “Join Now” and enter the promo code “swabforlife.” Online, registrants will be asked to answer a few questions. Then, they will get a kit in the mail, which is used to swab their cheek. Finally, they must mail the kit back to be added to the registry.

Not only is the registration process simple, but like Michael said, so is the donation itself.

“Every donor I’ve worked with, in 11 years I’ve done this, always says it was much easier than they ever thought,” Julie added. “Matches are happening more often today. The whole goal of the registry is to have people who have been educated in the process and would be eligible to donate if they were matched with a patient. It’s so easy to get involved and the need is so critical.”

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