News Releases


Bone Marrow Recipient Meets Donor at World Trade Center memorial

The World Trade Center evokes an emotional reaction most often associated with destruction, devastation, and loss.  For one little girl and the young woman who saved her life, it was the site this August for a joyful ‘reunion’ between two strangers.

So much can change with just one phone call.   

For Cheryl and Steve Tomasko and their young daughter Maddie, the call they received on April 7th, 2011 while driving to Kentucky will never be forgotten.  The Tomaskos were told Maddie had leukemia and needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately.  The Michigan family turned around, drove straight to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, and Maddie began multiple 3 hour sessions of chemotherapy.  Maddie’s cancer resisted the chemo, and her only hope for survival was a bone marrow transplant.

A second call was made – this time to a complete stranger from New Jersey.  Stephanie Pezzello was home on break from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, and at the mall with her sisters.  She didn’t recognize the number on her cell, but fortunately answered the call from the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).  Stephanie learned she was a potential match for an 11-year old girl.  Stephanie had joined the NMDP’s Be The Match® Registry a year earlier at a college registry drive organized by fellow athletes from the football team.  At the drive, Stephanie did a quick cheek swab, provided health and contact information, and learned that transplants between strangers may be the only lifesaving treatment option for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and 70 other blood related diseases.  However, even with 10 million people on the Registry, exact matches only occur 4 out of 10 times.  She hoped she would be a match, but figured the odds were against her.

Fortunately for Maddie, they weren’t.  Maddie’s three younger brothers were tested to see if they were a match for the transplant she desperately needed. They were not.  In fact, 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.

Another ‘never to be forgotten’ phone call was made.   

Diana Pezzello was on her way to work as a nurse in Manhattan when her daughter Stephanie called.  Diana understands the critical nature of a bone marrow transplant – and what would be involved for her then 20-year old daughter.  She recalls, ‘from the moment we were told Stephanie was an exact match, we were completely invested in a girl we didn't know and her family.  Our entire focus was on keeping Stephanie healthy because a little girl was being prepared for a bone marrow transplant and if something happened to Stephanie that would have been devastating to her.”

Maddie began intense chemotherapy to wipe out her white cells, and the bone marrow transplant was scheduled for June 23, 2011.  Stephanie and her family traveled to Philadelphia to donate her bone marrow during a 3.5 hour surgery under general anesthesia.  Approximately 80% of marrow donations are performed non-surgically – much like a blood donation. All costs associated with the donation are covered for the donor. 

In Grand Rapids, the Tomaskos, surrounded by family and friends, prayed all day that nothing would happen to their anonymous donor or the currier flying the marrow to Grand Rapids.

Another call stopped time – temporarily. The currier was able to catch an earlier flight and Maddie’s transplant was moved up to the middle of the night.

Maddie spent weeks in the hospital in a completely sterile environment, waiting for the neutrophils to develop in her blood.  The transplant required destroying her white cells, which fight infection in the body. 

Little did Maddie know at the time that she was receiving bone marrow from a true ‘fighter.’  Stephanie plays field hockey for Moravian College and has been awarded the Landmark Conference Defensive Player distinction.

The National Marrow Donor Program does not allow donors or recipients to learn of each other’s identity for one year following the transplant, and each party must agree to releasing contact information. 

After six months and 31 pills a day, specially prepared food, and very limited contact with anyone other than family, Maddie returned to school.  She had been home schooled and Skyped with teachers and classmates in her 5th and 6th grade classes, and “couldn’t wait to go back.”  Her mother Cheryl was far more apprehensive.  “We were very scared about her being back in public, and when she came down with a fever we all held our breath.”

Letter Lifelines

Just as phone calls can be life changers, so can letters.  Stephanie had received a call from the NMDP Registry a month after her donation, letting her know that the transplant took place and her marrow recipient was recovering.  It was Cheryl’s letters followed by Maddie’s that built a bond between these two families.  On July 30th, 2012, Maddie wrote:

It's so nice to finally get to contact you in a different way. I don't
know what to call you... like a nickname. So I'll just call you
Stephanie. My real name is Madison. But you can call me Maddie. I'm 12
years old with piercing blue eyes, very short brown hair with blonde
highlights and I'm 5 ft. tall to be exact. I'm going into 7th grade
with an A average. My favorite color is lime green, i love lions,
horses and dolphins. I've always wanted to visit New York, Kenya
Africa and Canada. I'm a tom boy, very chatty and love to listen to
music. My favorite movie is the Avengers, I love to play on Club
penguin and my favorite food is My Aunt Pats Famous Cheesy Potatoes.
That pretty much sums up me!

I hope to meet you some day and I hope to learn more about you too!

Love- Maddie.... LIONluver

A ‘Reunion’ at The World Trade Center Memorial

Maddie got her wish – on August 9th, 2012, the Tomasko family packed up their motorhome and drove through the night to New York to meet Stephanie and her family.  When the doors of the World Trade Center subway opened, both Cheryl and Diana were crying, and Cheryl said, “We were overwhelmed.  After all that time sitting in the hospital praying, ‘please, please someone be a kind soul to donate,’ we were now meeting Stephanie and her family.”   Diana added, “The days leading up to meeting the Tomasko family were so exciting, she is an amazing child and a truly loving family, we love them. We are so grateful to be able to participate in something so important in life.”  Ironically, this ‘reunion’ at the World Trade Center has added significance.  On September 11, 2001, all commercial flights were grounded.  The only plane allowed to fly besides those of the military was one delivering lifesaving bone marrow to a waiting recipient.

As for Stephanie, she is happy to share with everyone considering joining the Registry:  “It is so worth it to help save someone’s life.”

Tomaskos and their Community Give Back

  • “Team Maddie” (comprised of family, friends, and members of their congregations) hosted a  National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match® Registry drive on  June 18, 2011. Thirty-three people joined the Registry. 
  • On November 5, 2011, the Rockford Community hosted a ‘Maddie’s Pasta for a Purpose’ fundraiser to help Registry drive was held and forty-nine people joined the Registry. 
  • Maddie’s 5th Grade Class at Crestwood Elementary School (Rockford Public Schools) also joined forces to raise $7800 for the American Cancer Society Rockford Relay for Life – the event was held just one month after her diagnosis.

The Tomaskos and Pezzello’s continue to be Registry advocates.  They are sharing their story as part of the SwingShift and the Stars Traverse City, Michigan fundraising event in hopes that others will help underwrite the cost of adding people to the NMDP’s Registry.  (The cost to add one person to the Registry is $100 for tissue testing).  For additional information, check out and


NMDP Announces New Age Criteria

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 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,

  • GRAND RAPIDS MI – 5k Zombie Dash Saturday, October 27 at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. For more information, or


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. 


Michigan Blood in the News: One Mother's Dedication to Blood Donation

When Kathy Uzarski found out her son Jerry used 50 pints of blood while being treated for leukemia when he was only 9 years old, she vowed to replace every pint. 17 years later, Jerry is cancer-free and Kathy has donated over 70 pints with no signs of slowing down.

Click to read more ...


Start The Year Right – "Save A Mate. Donate."

Michigan Blood is hosting its “Save a mate. Donate” campaign leading up to and just after the new year.  Not only will donors be helping to shore up the blood supply after the holidays, but they’ll also be setting themselves on a path of saving lives all year long.

“Save a life and you can check ‘Do more good’ off your resolution list!” said Jim Childress, Vice President of Community Relations at Michigan Blood. “Because we don’t have blood drives on Christmas and New Year’s Day, we lose two days of donations and we will need to give the blood supply a boost so we can keep it at a safe level as we start 2013,” said Childress.  

When you donate to Michigan Blood, you could end up helping a friend, neighbor, or family member who needs blood. Michigan Blood supplies blood to more than 40 hospitals in Michigan’s lower peninsula. As a ‘thank you’ for stepping up to help during the “Save a Mate. Donate” campaign, anyone who attempts to donate will receive a $10 Outback Steakhouse gift card.

      Dates and Times Across the State

       Traverse City
       December 26  •  10:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
       December 27  •  10:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

       Bay City
       December 31  •  8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
       January 2  •  Noon – 7:00 p.m. 

       Dow Diamond
       December 31  •  7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
       January 2  •  7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

       December 31  •  8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
       January 2  •  8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

       Grand Rapids
       December 31  •  8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
       January 2  •  8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
       January 3  •  8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

       St. Joseph
       January 2  •  11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. 

       January 3  •  11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
       January 4  •  11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

       January 3  •  Noon – 7:00 p.m.

Michigan Blood hopes donors won’t stop with this first blood drive of the year. Donors are eligible to give every 56 days, but the average Michigan Blood donor gives less than twice a year. Just one more donation would help greatly: if all blood donors gave three times a year, blood shortages would be rare. 

Any healthy person 17 or older (or 16 with parental consent) who weighs at least 110 pounds may be eligible to give blood every 56 days. Blood donors should bring photo ID (or two forms of non-photo ID). Appointments are preferred and can be made online at or by calling 1-866-MIBLOOD.


Michigan Blood and Swing Shift and the Stars

Michigan Blood has been named one of the five charities for the Swing Shift and the Stars competition! Much like Dancing with the Stars, our local celebrity assigned to Michigan Blood will dance at a competition once a month to raise money for our Marrow/Stem Cell Program. More information will be coming soon, but in the meantime we are honored and excited to participate in this fun event.