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Bone marrow match drive offers hope for patients

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

It only takes about 10 minutes to sign up for a bone marrow registry, but as one Paducah family knows, that small step can mean the difference between life and death.

A registry drive scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 18 at Baptist Health Paducah will enter participants into the Be the Match Registry operated by the National Bone Marrow Donor Program. The drive was organized in the hope of finding an eligible donor for McCracken County High School junior Amanda Weir and others who suffer from critical diseases that transplants can treat.

"Frankly, her life depends on it," Amanda's mother Terri said. "You don't realize until you're in this position how much (a donor) is needed."

Weir was 15 when diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in February 2013. She was in remission until last March, when doctors discovered the disease had returned and she would need a bone marrow transplant to survive. Now 16, Weir has been receiving treatment at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., where doctors know her as "The Basketball Girl" because of her love for the sport.

The drive's organizer, Jamie Taylor, said she became involved with the Be the Match program because her sister, 25-year-old Traci Whetstone, also suffered from leukemia. A similar drive helped Whetstone find a matching donor.

"It's really hard to see them sick or in pain and you know that there's not anything you can do to help them. But I feel like with doing Be the Match, I'm able to give families the hope that there will be a donor," she said.

Taylor said signing up for the registry takes only a few minutes. Potential donors must fill out a medical history form and submit to a cheek swab. They must be between 18 and 44, generally healthy and willing to donate to anyone in need of a transplant. Those over the age of 44 may also register, but are required to do so online at www.bethematch.org.

If potential donors prove a match, Be the Match contacts them for additional testing. Finding a close match for a bone marrow donor is much more complicated than matching blood types, so only one in every 500 people on the registry go on to donate, according to Be the Match's website.

Terri Weir said her 18-year-old son, Adam, had hoped to be a match for his sister and was devastated to find he wasn't. Now Terri and her husband Rick are putting their faith in finding an outside donor.

"We are relying on someone unrelated, someone with the goodness of their heart who, for whatever reason ... would help my child survive," she said.

Doctors search the donor database for potential matches. If selected, consenting donors will undergo either a peripheral blood stem cell donation or a bone marrow donation, depending on the needs of the patient. The former is a nonsurgical procedure similar to blood donation, but lengthier. The bone marrow donation requires surgery to withdraw liquid bone marrow from the back of a donor's pelvic bone.

About 40 percent of donors either travel by air or require a hotel stay. Be the Match covers most of these expenses, as well as all medical expenses related to the donation.

Those who cannot attend the drive, or who are between 45 and 60, may join online at www.bethematch.org using the promo code Match4Amanda.

Financial donations are also welcome. For more information, contact Taylor at 270-755-2549 or Be the Match representative Mary LeSueur at 662-403-0091.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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