Twenty-seven year old Lucy Kurtz Eikevik and twenty-one year old Mariah Sika have never met each other, or the two women to whom they recently selflessly offered a potentially lifesaving gift. Yet both Michigan residents are exemplary representatives of the National Marrow Donor Program’s (NMDP) Be the Match® Registry’s October 2012 change in the age criteria for donors.
Research has found that bone marrow transplant doctors request potential donors between ages 18 - 44 years of age more than 90 percent of the time. Donors in this age range offer the greatest chance for transplant success. Younger potential donors can also remain on the registry longer. Currently, just 60 percent of registry members are under age 45, so Be The Match made the switch in October 2012 to only registering individuals ages 18 – 44 at marrow registry drives in order to grow the best registry possible for patients in need. Prior age criteria called for donors 18-60 years. Those ages 45 – 60 may still join the registry, but must join online at www.BeTheMatch.org/join with a $100 tax-deductible payment to cover the cost of joining the Registry.
Since launching the Registry in 1987, the NMDP Registry has grown to more than 10 million donors throughout the world. More than 10,000 patients turn to the Registry every year, meaning that approximately only 4 out of every 10 patients find a match. Michigan Blood, as part of the National Marrow Donor Program, recruits potential marrow donors for patients across the country and around the world. All that's needed is a cheek-swab or blood sample and simple health questionnaire. Because testing is costly, a monetary donation is suggested, or fundraising events are held to offset the cost of the testing.
According to Barbara Hile, Program Manager for Michigan Blood’s Marrow/Stem Cell Program, “Patients needing blood stem cell (marrow) transplants can only find a suitable match within their family about 30% of the time. The remaining 70% of matches are made between complete strangers via the Be the Match Registry. Therefore, the more young people who join the Registry, the more chances we have of a match for thousands of patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood diseases. A marrow transplant is often the patient’s last, best chance for survival.”
Earlier this summer, Eikevik received a phone call informing her that she was a potential stem cell match for a 17 year old leukemia patient in Europe. Eikevik had joined the Bone Marrow Registry at an on-campus drive while a student at Western Michigan University.
“I felt like I was winning the lottery,” she said, “and that poor girl had lost the lottery.” Eikevik went through the tests and screening to determine if she would indeed be the donor for the patient. She spent about 8 hours donating stem cell. “The hardest part was having to sit there for that long, but what the 17 year old was going through was so much tougher. I felt joyful. It’s very uplifting to help somebody.” Eikevik encourages others to join the Registry – “You never know what kind of cards you’ll be dealt. Get on the Registry as soon as you can.”
When Sika received the call informing her she may be a potential match, she says she was “excited and nervous, but never did I think that I would actually be the best match. After going through the first round of testing for further compatibility, I was called again and told that indeed I was the best match. This made me even more excited. “ Today, Sika is back at Adrian College for her senior year and “feels wonderful.” She encourages others to join the Registry because “donating is really a selfless act that has the potential to save someone’s life and what more could you ask for other than to be able to save someone’s life There are so many patients out there that are waiting for a bone marrow or stem cell donation, many of which don't have a direct match from family, and they are left to wait and see if there is a match on the National Marrow Registry. It is because of strangers that sign up on the Registry that these sick patients are able to have a ray of hope that they will get better because there is a potential match for them somewhere out there. If more people signed up, more patients would be able to have a chance to match with a potential donor, and in turn more people are able to help out someone in need.“
The rules of the National Marrow Donor Program do not allow donors to know what country the patient is from, and they can only learn each other’s identity after a year if both agree. Eikevik sent her “cell sister” a note of encouragement, telling her “it is an honor to be your donor … and the profound wisdom of human experience you gain by overcoming this Leukemia cannot be overstated.” She assured her, “You’ve got an international cheering squad, and I’m pretty sure I’m the captain. Everyone here is sending you love and well wishes, and we are very excited for your transplant. May you have a swift recovery and a brand new start.”
Offsetting Testing Costs
The total cost to add a new member to the Registry is approximately $100. Individuals aged 18-44 are invited to join the Registry but are asked to contribute $25 towards their registration process and testing. Michigan Blood also hosts awareness and fundraising events throughout the state to offset testing costs. Upcoming events include:
TRAVERSE CITY MI -- Swing Shift and the Stars – Michigan Blood is one of the charities of choice at this ‘Dancing with the Stars’ like competition. The series of monthly dance competitions began in September and run through December. Michigan Blood’s dancing team includes Erika Erickson from the ABC 29&8 and dance instructor Cliff Shanoski. For additional details or to donate, www.swingshiftandthestars.com.
The Gift of Life
Each year, 4.5 million Americans would die without a blood transfusion. On average, 1 out of every 7 people entering the hospital need blood, yet 3 gallons of blood support America’s blood need for just one minute. Donating blood is a simple and easy way to help save lives. Volunteer donors are needed every day – blood needs never take a vacation. Michigan Blood hosts over 3700 mobile blood drives statewide per year to meet the blood need of 38 hospitals in Michigan. Donors must be healthy, 17 years old (16 with parent/guardian permission), and weigh at least 110 pounds. After a brief health screening, donating blood takes on average 7-10 minutes, followed by a 10 minute rest/snack period.