In the wake of news of Havre youngster Grace Gibson's death, people turned out in strong numbers to the bone marrow donation registry drive Thursday at Havre Middle School. Grace's sister, Cassy, 3, was found as a match for Grace, but Grace died before doctors were able to stabilize her enough for the bone marrow transplant. Grace, 8, who fought leukemia, was the driving force behind the organization of the bone marrow drive, said Jana Nordboe, the school district nurse who organized the drive. The Havre drive was easy to organize, Nordboe said. "We were absolutely meant to do this," she said. Some who went through the process had been thinking about becoming a part of the registry for a while and the easy access to the process during the drive prompted them to finally go through with it. "I knew there was a shortage (of donors)," especially ones from varying ethnic groups, said Colleen Raty, Grace's aunt, as she filled out paperwork. She had thought about donating since before Grace was diagnosed but was never quite sure how to proceed. With the l o c a l d r i v e , becoming part of the registry was easy. "If it can save somebody's life, it's worth it," she said. Giving somebody the gift of life is the greatest gift a person can give, Raty said, blinking back tears, and if her registering can save another family from going through the travails hers has, she wants to do it. Karla Coy is already an organ donor and had thought before about becoming a member of the bone marrow registry. "It just made it really easy to do it today," she said. As a teacher, helping others is a natural progression, she said. "It's kind of one of those things you do anyway," she said. "When it hits home," she said, "you say 'Why didn't I do something?'" Eileen F. Damone is a recruitment representative for the Montana marrow program of Inland Northwest Blood Center out of Washington state. The success stories and the failures keep her traveling Montana, advocating for people to join the registry. "It's heartbreaking to watch someone die because there's no one on the registry that matches," she said. But then, there's the happier side of her job, like the story of a 7-year-old who couldn't find a match for two years. Then, in February, a transplant was performed, and the girl is doing well. "I'd like to work myself out of a job," Damone said. Often Damone said she hears people say that they would donate for their children, but statistically speaking, parents aren't likely matches for them. "So someone else has to match your children," she said, adding that people should think about doing the same for others. Eighty to eighty-five percent of caucasians are matched, but that number is significantly lower for other ethnic groups, she said. Full-blooded siblings are only a match approximately 25 percent of the time, she added. "You may never be called, but at least you would be there in case someone needed you," Damone said, adding that matching is extremely difficult. More than 8 million people nationwide are on the registry, with another 8 million people worldwide, and each day, 6,000 people search the online registry. The turnout at the Havre drive was good, she said. "If you get one, you've possibly saved one life," she said. Each person at the Havre drive Thursday filled out a brief medical history and had four cheek swab samples taken. If people are a likely match, they will undergo further blood work and testing. Ninety percent of marrow collections are gathered from an out-patient blood draw process, where the stem cells are removed from the drawn blood and the blood returned to the donor. Only 10 percent of the collections are done via a needle inserted into the donor's hip. Donors who are a match are flown to either Seattle for the blood process or to Denver for the needle process. The expenses are paid for by the patient's insurance, and donors can bring a friend or family member. "It's not the nightmare that people think of," Damone said. "It's nothing compared to what that patient has to go through, and you've saved a life," she added. For more information or to request a cheek swab kit through the mail, visit www.BeTheMatch. org.
Bone marrow drive sparked by eight-year-old’s struggle
Grace Gibson dies; drive in her honor draws many volunteers
Published: Friday, April 9th, 2010
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