June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Medina woman organizes bone marrow drive

MEDINA — “Get swabbed and save a life” has become the new mantra for Jeanne Hurt.

The phrase refers to swabbing the inside of your mouth — what people have to do to become registered as bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell donors — and Hurt is recruiting people for a bone marrow drive 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 19 at Garfield Elementary School, 234 S. Broadway.

“Just about everyone you know has had close friends, relatives or family members touched by cancer in one form or another,” Hurt said. She organized the drive in memory of her sister-in-law, Ruthie Polk, who died from acute myelogenous leukemia in July.

She is determined to raise awareness of the critical need for bone marrow donors and to recruit more. She explained that after three chemotherapy treatments to bring her leukemia under control, doctors realized Polk needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.

“Compatible donors need to have specific antigens to be a good match,” Hurt said. “It’s difficult, because while people wait, they get progressively worse. Ruthie’s chance at life was finding a donor.”

A promising initial match fell through because of the would-be donor’s past health issues. It took more time to search for another donor, and although they found a second match, the leukemia cells had returned.

“I realized we don’t have enough donors, and I was determined to do everything I could,” Hurt said. “Leukemia is one of many kinds of cancer. I can’t help with the research, but I can do other things. We don’t have large numbers of donors in the United States; they seem to have more abroad.”

Hurt is organizing the local bone marrow drive through DKMS (Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei — German Bone Marrow Drive Center), founded in 1991 by Peter Harf, whose wife suffered from leukemia, and his wife’s physician, Dr. Gerhard Ehninger. Today, DKMS has almost 2 million registered donors and facilitated more than 17,000 transplants worldwide.

Using statistics from DKMS, Hurt said only three in 10 patients will find a matching donor.

Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure but registering as a donor only requires people to swab the inside of their cheeks and then drop the swab in an envelope that’s immediately sealed and sent to a processing and testing center.

“No one but the donor touches the swab,” Hurt said.

People who register also may donate $65 to cover processing costs if they choose, but it’s not a requirement, Hurt said. Donors are required to be in good health and meet medical eligibility guidelines.

They must be between ages 18 and 55, live in the United States or Puerto Rico, and be willing to donate to any patient in need.

“People think it’s scary to donate (bone marrow), but it’s really not,” Hurt said, adding that donor information is confidential and stored in a secure system. “Donating is an inconvenience for a week out of your life, to save a life.”

Peripheral blood stem cell donation involves receiving daily injections of a synthetic protein to increase the number of white blood cells for four days prior to the collection day. Blood is removed with a sterile needle from one arm, passed through a machine that separates the blood stem cells and returned through the other arm.

Marrow donors are anesthetized locally or generally, and doctors use a hollow needle to extract bone marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. The DKMS Web site said marrow is replaced within four to six weeks.

Hurt’s effort to raise awareness and funds won’t end with the bone marrow drive. She is tying on her tennis shoes and running a half-marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and her husband and daughter were planning to participate in Pelotonia, a biking tour that benefits cancer research at Ohio State University today. They have raised a total of $3,650 to participate in the events.

For information about DKMS, visit www.dkmsamericas.org. For information about the local bone marrow drive, call (330) 242-3645.

Contact Judy A. Totts at (330) 721-4063 or jtotts@ohio.net.