National program, university community to quest for miracle marrow

La’Keyndria “Ke’Ke” Irving is a 15-year-old Huntsville resident battling a foe much larger than her: leukemia, a disease that over 30,000 people are diagnosed with each year.

Colleges Against Cancer and the Health and Kinesiology Department are teaming up to host a bone marrow drive to help Irving’s fight.

Today the National Marrow Donor Program will have tables set up next to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences building, as well as the flagpole next to Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.

Hope Groves, with the National Marrow Donor Program, said one of the things the groups try to do is educate people about marrow donating and encourage them to register.

“It is gives them the opportunity to register with our Be the Match program,” Groves said. “We try to find miracle marrow donor matches for patience that are dying from leukemia, lymphoma and sickle-cell anemia as well as about 80 other blood or genetic disorders that cause someone to need a marrow transplant.”

Irving was diagnosed with leukemia in December of 2007, according to her mother Cynthia Dickey.

“I was just at a loss; I didn’t know anything,” Dickey said. “There was just a lot of emotion going on.”

“It’s a great program, it helps save lives. It isn’t as painful as it seems and that’s why most people don’t join. They think it’s painful, and it’s really not.”

Groves agreed with Dickey. She said the process isn’t as bad as most people think.

“The way that it is done most often is PBSC, peripheral blood stem cell,” Groves said.

“It is similar to a blood donation,” she said. “We give them a shot of a medicine five days before the donation that stimulates production of stem cells. They then come into the hospital and we take the blood and filter off immature marrow cells and reintegrate the blood back into the blood stream.”

Groves said that this process actually allows more people to donate than what blood donations allow.

“It doesn’t matter if you are anemic, they can still donate marrow,” Groves said. “And unlike blood donations, we have no weight minimum.”

She encourages everyone to register. In addition, she said it is quick and easy.

“When someone registers, they fill out a form, which takes about three to five minutes,” Groves said. “Then they do a self-swab in their cheek that is then sent off to a lab. That’s it.”

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