"Be the Match" event aims to add more to bone-marrow registry

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COLUMBIA — An event called "Be the Match" took place Sunday at Our Lady of the Lourdes Church in Columbia. The event aimed to raise awareness about the importance of bone marrow donation and add more people to the registry.

Event volunteer, Janice Downes, said she got involved after hearing her friend, Kathy Concannon's daughter Chaeleigh, needed a life-saving bone-marrow transplant.

"When I found out Chaeleigh needed a bone-marrow transplant, the first thing you think is 'how can I help? Maybe I can be the match, what can I do?' I think that's everybody's instant reaction is to say 'what can I do to help?'" Downes said. 

Chaeleigh first discovered a lump in her ankle in October 2015. At first, it was thought to be a hematoma. However, on December 23, Chaeleigh was diagnosed with a very rare form of leukemia. Doctors told her she needed a bone-marrow transplant. 

Chaeleigh and her fiancé, Kevin.

The uncertainty of finding worried Chaeleigh's family. 

"It was very stressful not knowing if she had a match. We heard at one point there might be a couple, and then all of a sudden, one day, we found out we had one. When we got the news the donor said 'yes' it was huge, because it was our worst fear that we didn't have one," Kathy Concannon said. 

The donor came from Germany and helped to save Chaeleigh's life. Now, the Concannons, along with Downes, are working to make this "Be the Match" event into an annual gig. 

"Oh yes, this is the first annual. We are going to try and do this every year from here on out," Downes said. 

To join the bone-marrow registry, you can visit BeTheMatch.org. A few requirements to donate:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 44, although there are a few exceptions
  • Commit to donating to any patient in need
  • Confirm you don't have health issues related to being unable to donate

 

According to Be the Match, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukemia every three minutes. Many of those need a bone-marrow transplant to survive, but simply don't have a donor. Kathy Concannon said she believes a big reason for the lack of donors is the lower awareness about the need for bone marrow in the United States. 

"A lot of the donors come from Europe. They know about donating bone marrow there like we here know about donating blood. So we are trying to bring awareness here. It would make a huge difference," Kathy Concannon said. 

There are two methods for donating bone marrow. The first is called a PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) donation and involves the donor taking a drug five days before donate their blood. 

The second is a surgical outpatient procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room. Donors are put under anesthesia and doctors collect marrow from the back of their pelvic bone. Back soreness is common following surgery, but donors are typically back to their normal routine within a week.

Be the Match emphasizes the need for people of diverse backgrounds to donate. This increases the variety of tissue types available and the amount of people that can be saved by transplants. 

Downes said people in the community are already rallying around the cause.

"Other people are like, 'What a great thing. I wanted to help, but didn't know how I could help. Now I can get swabbed and I can feel like I'm helping and maybe if someone needs a match, and I'm their match in the world, they'll call on me,'" Downes said.

Chaeleigh called on someone from Germany for her life-saving transplant. Now her and her family are working to make sure others are as fortunate. 

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