Hope became reality with the help of a German teenager. Through Be The Match®, Tobias Hoffman, 19, was identified as a bone marrow match for Betsy. That’s because Be The Match® partners with other international registries to give patients access to approximately 19 million donors and nearly 600,000 umbilical cord blood units worldwide.
Betsy received her transplant at the University of Minnesota in 2005, and has been cancer-free ever since.
Today, Betsy is healthy and leading an active life with her husband and their young daughters. Still, she hasn’t forgotten about the people who helped her. She had the opportunity to thank Hoffman in person and has reached out to Be The Match to help provide this life-saving gift to others. Betsy has logged hundreds of volunteer hours raising awareness about the importance of bone marrow donation, educating patients and recruiting donors to join the registry.
The diagnosis and treatment plan
Ray’s son, Morgan was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells, in 2008 at the age of 12 years old. Immediately after he was diagnosed, Morgan was sent to Denver to begin his aggressive treatment.
The approach to Morgan’s treatment was to kill the diseased blood cells at the different stages of development. The first stage, induction chemotherapy was intended to bring Morgan into remission. The second stage, consolidation was a second phase of chemotherapy intended to reduce the number of diseased cells in the body. The third and final stage, maintenance was intended to destroy any remaining diseased cells so that the leukemia was eliminated from Morgan’s body.
In 2010, Morgan relapsed. “We were told that Morgan would need a bone marrow transplant,” said Ray. “Those were doors we never wanted to have to go through.” And so began Morgan’s search for a match.
The slim chance of a related donor
When patients first begin their search for a donor, they look for a match within their immediate family. In most cases, 70% of patients do not have a suitable match in their family.
In his family, Morgan’s best chance for a match was with his brother—a 25% chance. When the results came back that his brother was not a match, Morgan’s parents got tested. Parents, because they only provide half of a child’s DNA have a slim 5% chance of being a match. Luckily, Ray was determined to be a match, and after further confirmatory blood testing, it was decided—Ray would donate bone marrow to Morgan.
“I was excited,” said Ray. “I am a full time firefighter and I’m used to fixing things, but at that moment I knew I could help save my son’s life.”
Donation day — The day that would change their lives
“The day of the transplant was like a wedding or a college graduation—it was a big day,” said Ray. The bone marrow donation itself was fairly uneventful for Ray. He felt a little discomfort from the intubation (insertion of a tube to help the patient breath while under general anesthesia), but it was minimal. Two days after his donation, Ray tried to climb up a flight of stairs and felt a lack of energy. However, after a week or two Ray was back to his old self. Doctors typically suggest that bone marrow donors take it easy the week following donation, because they might feel more tired as well as some slight lower back pain.
Rare connection between brothers
“It’s a unique and unusual bond that we have,” said Ray about his bond with his brother, Dwight, a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donor. “A rare circumstance that we can both claim that we are marrow donors, that we were able to make such a significant difference in someone’s life.”
Editor’s Note: Ray’s son, Morgan is currently in remission and just completed his 2 year checkup. Their family should receive his test results in about five months.
Luz’s donation story:
I decided to join the registry when our church was looking for a match for one of our pastors. I joined in the summer and by October of the same year I received a letter stating that I was a possible match for a patient.
Of course, there was no question in my mind about donating. I have two daughters and the girl that would be receiving my bone marrow was only seventeen.
“Seventeen, wow!” I thought. “She should be thinking about prom and graduation, not about whether she would find a donor.”
I went back for more tests and it was determined that I was a match. I donated marrow.
My experience was hassle- and pain-free. Veronica -– my donor center representative — was very professional and compassionate. I did some research on the internet and found that it was supposed to be painful, but I did not experience any pain or discomfort.
I donated on Wednesday and by Saturday I was back at work. I knew I was in God’s hands. By being exposed to the idea of donating marrow, my older daughter found that she could be a volunteer courier, and she joined the program. It’s her way of contributing.
Donating was an amazing experience and a little surreal. Imagine, being a match for somebody who is a total stranger. Wow!! Isn’t God amazing.
I hope that by realizing that this was a pain- and discomfort-free experience, others will be inspired to donate. I am thankful for the experience.