A simple test will determine if you can save a life

Today’s story is about David Strathman, an employee in Bonner General Health’s Information Systems Department. Having moved all over the country, Strathman and his wife have settled in Sandpoint for all the usual reasons plus one that will save some lives.

Strathman in 1997, at age 11 was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Now at age 30 he’s a terrific success story about bone marrow transplants and a vocal advocate for the Be The Match Registry.

“In March of 1998 I was in remission and it looked like the leukemia was gone. Unfortunately, just a few months into seventh grade, I relapsed and received more chemotherapy to put the leukemia back into remission while preparations were made for a bone marrow transplant,” Strathman said.

“I received my new marrow on April 14, 1999. My long recovery started with a two-month stay in double-door isolation because of my severely suppressed immune system. I had many complications that made my recovery difficult, but the transplant was successful, I was leukemia free,” he said.

“Throughout my treatment I received 31 units of red cells, 26 units of platelets, many units of IVIG, which is an immune system boosting product made from more than one thousand plasma donations, and two bags of bone marrow,” Strathman explained.

Where did all that blood and marrow come from? Donors like you and me, oh and his wife, Emmy Strathman, who signed up for the registry at a 5k run in 2007 and became a donor last year.

Here’s how simple it is to put your name on the registry. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 44 you’re the best age to be a match. The test is a simple cheek swab.

And, to make it really easy you can have this done on September 10 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at BGH Health Services Building, 423 N. Third Avenue, Suite 101. You can also join Be The Match Registry online at join.bethematch.org/bonner and the swab kit will be mailed to you.

Like all transplants, the donor must be a match for the recipient. What is matched is the human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) which are specific proteins on the surface of white blood cells and other cells that make each person’s tissue type unique.

According to Cancer.net, about 30 percent of patients who need a bone marrow transplant can find a match within their own family; the remaining 70 percent will need to look elsewhere. Thus the registry.

“Doctors search Be The Match Registry to find donors with HLA markers that match those of their patients. These searches happen on behalf of patients every day, so the most important thing you can do as a registry member is stay committed,” Be The Match Registry website says.

“When a registry member matches a patient, there are several steps before donating. These steps are meant to ensure donation is safe for both the donor and the patient. Once approved to donate, the patient’s doctors will request one of two donation methods: peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) or bone marrow. The patient’s doctor chooses the donation method that’s best for the patient.”

Most common is the PBSC collection. The donor will receive a drug that stimulates blood cells for several days before the procedure. Then, it’s similar to giving blood except the machine takes what it wants and gives you back the rest. Unlike a regular blood donation, it takes quite a bit longer. Emmy Strathman’s donation took about six hours.

Less commonly needed, a bone marrow harvest involves the doctor taking bone marrow from the hip bone. It’s a surgical procedure performed under anesthesia. It’s an out-patient surgery, and the donor can resume normal activities within the week.

David Strathman said that his donor has become a close friend. Emmy Strathman most likely will meet her recipient after the obligatory year has passed. Wouldn’t you like to take a page out of this story and give someone the gift of life?

If you have questions you can contact John Philpott, BTMR, john.philpott@nmdp.org or at (801) 520-1383.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.