It’s that time of year when many are focused on giving to others. Many get stumped by what gift they should get their friends or family members. How much should I spend? What do they like? The list goes on. This year’s events have shifted my focus away from purchasing material things for others while still maintaining a focus on giving.
On April 5 of this year, my 13-year old daughter, Kiersten, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A mere 2 weeks later, after an intense battle through chemotherapy treatments and numerous other lifesaving measures, she lost her battle with this devastating disease. Moments like this can devastate family and friends associated with the loved one that was lost. We chose Kiersten’s passing as a call to action to help others. My family started Team Kiersten the day of Kiersten’s passing and raised $26,000 in 7 weeks for the Leukemia Research Foundation and culminated with our team running in the Jim Gibbon’s Fight Against Leukemia 5K on the lakefront in Chicago. We were told it was the highest amount of money raised for the event to that date. We plan to top that next year.
Had Kiersten not succumbed so quickly to this aggressive form of leukemia, she would have needed months of more chemotherapy and several bone marrow transplants. Bone marrow must be type-matched to the patient. Unfortunately, neither myself nor any of Kiersten’s immediate family were bone marrow matches. The chemotherapy kills off all the leukemia cells in one’s body. Unfortunately, it also kills off all the good blood cells in the body and leaves a patient very susceptible to other infections as their immune system is wiped out. A bone marrow transplant “kick starts” the body into producing blood and rebuilds the immune system.
In the past, bone marrow donation was a very invasive process where marrow cells were collected from the pelvic bone. Today, there is a new procedure called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Donation (PBSC) in which stem cells are collected from the donor. In this method, stem cells are collected via the bloodstream. To increase the number of stem cells in the bloodstream, donors receive daily injections of a synthetic protein called filgrastim for four days before and on the day of the collection. On the day of collection, the donor’s blood is removed with a sterile needle from one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. It is very similar to giving blood at a blood drive like you would see at school.
There are currently over 10,000 people nationwide awaiting bone marrow transplants. What can you do? It is very simple. At the bottom of this article, there is a link to the National Marrow Donor Program. As long as you are at least 18 years old, you can donate. Once you sign-up online (free sign-up), you will receive a swab kit in the mail. You swab the inside of your mouth with the swabs provided, then send them back in a prepaid envelope. That’s it. Your sample is placed in the National Donor Registry and you will be called if you are ever a match.
This holiday season think not about what you can give, but what you can give up. Help someone in need.