Woman organizes marrow drive

Published 11:48 pm Friday, November 8, 2013

A Suffolk woman has organized a bone marrow donor registration drive next week in support of her cousin, a Chesapeake woman who was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year.

Sue Smith said her cousin’s health problems inspired her to organize the drive, even though Smith has been listed on the Be The Match Registry for years.

Her cousin, who did not want to be named because “she didn’t want it to be about her,” Smith said, started feeling ill last fall.

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“She had a cold she couldn’t get rid of,” Smith said. “She was losing weight but just thought she was tired.”

But the 56-year-old woman, who is married and has two grown children, finally scheduled a doctor’s appointment. After a gauntlet of tests, she was diagnosed with leukemia.

“They immediately put her in the hospital that week, and she went through seven straight days of chemotherapy,” Smith said.

Doctors began searching for a donor. Family members were eliminated, but after a few months, her cousin was matched with an anonymous donor, a 50-year-old man.

However, eight days before the scheduled surgery, something happened with the man and he was not able to donate.

“We don’t know what happened,” Smith said. “He did not back out. We just hope he was OK, but they know he was no longer qualified, so they took him off the list.”

No match has been found for her cousin since then, Smith said. The woman still takes chemotherapy every month to keep her cancer at bay until another donor can be found.

“It was a shocker,” Smith said. “She’s the healthy one. She had nothing wrong with her.”

In Virginia, 71 patients currently are waiting for a bone marrow match, even though 133,000 Virginians are already on the registry to donate, according to the Be The Match Registry.

The donor registration drive will be held Nov. 15 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Towne Hall, 137 Mt. Pleasant Road, Chesapeake. Potential donors between the ages of 18 and 44 who are willing to commit to donating if called can come and provide contact and health information, as well as a cheek swab or blood sample.

A drawing will also be held to raise money for the Be The Match Registry, and refreshments will be available.

“I just hope so many come out,” Smith said. “You just don’t know if you’re saving a person’s life.”

If called, the donation surgery is an outpatient procedure and sometimes is as simple as the process of giving plasma or platelet blood donations. Only one in every 540 members of the registry ever matches a patient.

For more information on the registry, the donation process or health problems that prevent donation, visit www.bethematch.org.