Critical Need: Bone Marrow Campaign Nets 500 Donors
When Dr. Paul Kuzma learned that a close friend had been diagnosed with leukemia, he discovered a need for bone marrow donors in Moore County.
Kuzma and others organized a successful two-day campaign that added nearly 500 new names to the National Bone Marrow Registry. The registry provides doctors with a list of possible donor matches for cancer patients.
A bone marrow transplant is often the last option for patients with cancers of the blood or lymph tissues.
"When you get to that point," Kuzma said, "and that's what you need, then that is what you need to live."
Kuzma learned Moore County's last bone marrow registration drive was conducted seven years ago.
"We thought it was a good time to have another," he said.
The drive was held April 29 at various locations in Pinehurst and May 15 at Pinecrest High School. It was far more successful than Kuzma dreamed.
"They (representatives from the National Marrow Donor Program) said we'd have a successful drive if we got 150 people," Kuzma said. "And at 200 people, we'd be over the top. Secretly in my mind I was hoping for 200."
Kuzma credited the community for the success.
"It just shows the great support and the spirit of the community," he said. "There is no shortage of good people willing to help."
Each year, thousands of people are diagnosed with cancers of the blood and lymph tissues.
A list of potential bone marrow donors is critical because only about 30 percent of the patients who need a marrow transplant can find a family member who is compatible. The rest must try to find an unrelated donor.
A close match is critical for the transplant to work.
Unmatched cells can often treat the body as a hostile invader, Kuzma said. That can lead to the cells attacking the body, which can ultimately be fatal.
"The (transplanted) cells can attack your body because it is foreign," Kuzma said.
The National Marrow Donor Program maintains a database of donors who have volunteered to give a small fraction of their blood-forming cells to help save the lives of strangers.
To be entered in the database, a person need only fill out a short medical history, and donate cells via a cheek swab. The cells are catalogued and entered in a database. If the volunteer is found to match a patient who needs a transplant, most times the cells can be collected through a blood draw, similar to donating blood or platelets.
The procedure is much less invasive than a bone marrow draw, which was more common in the past. In that procedure, a needle would be stuck into the hip bone and marrow would be withdrawn.
"As the technology is improving," Kuzma said, "very rarely would they have to stick a needle in you for a marrow draw."
One issue that has cropped up is the lack of minority donors.
Kuzma said minority donors are critical, because next to family members, ethnicity can oftentimes provide a closer genetic match.
"You are more likely to match somebody who has the same ethnic background as you," Kuzma said. "That's not 100 percent, but more likely you will have a closer genetic match."
Normally it costs $50 to register. Kuzma was able to absorb most of the cost through funding from the FirstHealth Foundation and the National Marrow Donor Program.
The April drive was held at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and Sandhills Community College. In addition, teams of trained nurses went to businesses in Moore County and registered others. Those sites included the Surgery Center of Pinehurst, Pinehurst Medical Clinic, Pinehurst Surgical and Carolina Eye Clinic.
Kuzma organized the event with the help of Pamela Hudson and Rebecca Ainslie at the Foundation of FirstHealth; nurses Lori Despain, Tracy Overton, Ruth Ann Graham, Wendy Cox and Amanda Freeman; Buddy Spong of the Moore County Chapter of the Red Cross; and B.T. Williams, of the National Marrow Donor Program.
"There is no shortage of good people willing to help," Kuzma said.
Because of the success of the registration drive, Kuzma said he hopes it will be an annual event.
"We learned a lot this first time around," Kuzma said, "I think we can be more successful next year and in years to come."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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