Community hosts blood and marrow drive Tuesday
In August 1999, Zach Hanham was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma – acute lymphoblastic lymphoma.
So rare, in fact, that his mother Teri McKinney, after searching Internet chat rooms and talking to countless doctors, said Zach is the only known child with the disease. The last reported case was 16 years ago at St. Jude’s Hospital in Tennessee, she said.
The first sign that something was wrong with Hanham was wobbly legs.
“We went on vacation in Santa Cruz and he got to the point where he couldn’t walk and he had to crawl,” McKinney said.
After that, he suffered abnormal swelling of the testicles and a X-ray exam showed large tumors throughout his body.
“I was looking at the screen and (the doctors) turned it away and then I knew,” McKinney said. The doctors gave Hanham less than a year to live.
Right now Hanham is given daily chemotherapy treatments while he waits for a bone marrow transplant that will increase his chances of beating the disease.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento Medical Foundation Blood Centers will bring its mobile unit to Truckee for its regular blood and bone marrow drive. The blood drive will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Veteran’s Hall, 10214 High St.
The drive is expected to draw more donors than usual because of the success of the national blood drive following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. This will be Truckee’s first blood drive since the attacks.
McKinney hopes that the outpouring of support for the Sept. 11 victims will help bring people out to donate marrow as well.
“It’s very important that people come and (donate marrow),” she said. “You only have to do it once.”
Becoming a registered donor
To become a marrow donor, a blood center takes two tablespoons of blood for the Human Leukocytes Antigens Typing (HLA-type) test and the results are stored in a national registry, said Julie Loza, a donor recruitment specialist for SMF Blood Centers.
From the registry, the chances in finding a donor are 1 in 20,000 to find a match. There are approximately 4.3 million donors in the registry, she said.
There’s a 30 percent chance that a donor will be found in a brother or sister, Loza said, but if not then the patient must look to the registry.
If the registry finds a match, then further testing is done to see if it is a perfect match. The donor and the recipient must match all six antigens for a perfect match, Loza said. Ideally, a patient will take the best match from 25 that look compatible.
But the registry isn’t as balanced as it would like to be, said Stacy Williams, a donor recruitment specialist for SMF Blood Centers. Fifty-five percent of the registry is Caucasian. Less than 25 percent is black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander or multi-raced. The remaining 20 percent of the registry are of unknown ethnicity.
To try and balance the registry’s ethnicity, non-Caucasians can donate blood for the registry for free. The test for Caucasians normally runs $90, but on Tuesday, there will be a special price of $25 and the first 55 will be free, Williams said.
There are two kinds of bone marrow transplant procedures. The first is called a marrow harvest, where marrow is taken from the donor by needle from the hip bone and placed directly into the patient.
The second is a method using the drug Filgrastim and a machine to separate and transplant healthy stem cells into the patient.
Truckee resident Kelly Hechinger knows first-hand what the donation process is like.
She first donated her blood for the HLA-Type registry eight years ago. She said she’s always planned on donating marrow when the time arrived.
“Why not?” she said. “It’s not like giving a kidney where you lose something.”
Hechinger has been called four times over the years to see if her marrow was an exact match, but it wasn’t until recently that the opportunity arose for her to actually donate.
In mid-November, Hechinger will undergo the stem cell procedure to possibly save a 59-year-old man suffering from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Doctors have given the man less than 50 percent chance of surviving, even with the stem cell procedure. But that doesn’t deter Hechinger.
“I’m thrilled to get to hopefully save a life,” she said.
The process Hechinger will go through begins with five consecutive daily shots of the drug Filgrastim, which will make her body over-produce stem cells. After the injections, she will be hooked up to a machine that removes the extra stem cells from her blood stream. The process takes two days – five to six hours the first, two to three the second.
While Hechinger begins her injections, the patient begins a series of chemotherapy treatments to prepare him for the transfer. Hechinger said this is the “point of no return” when if the donor pulls out, the patient will die.
“Once I start donating there has to be a series of well-timed events that have to be taking place,” she said.
Hechinger wasn’t told the man’s name or where the man lives, but she said she knows that “travel arrangements” for the stem cells were made for immediately after she’s finished donating. She can also send an anonymous letter with the stem cells and after a year she is allowed to meet him for the first time, she said.
The patient will know if the transplant is successful in four to six weeks.
Hechinger said if the operation isn’t successful, she would volunteer to undergo a hip aspiration procedure if necessary.
For more information on the Truckee Community Blood Drive Tuesday, call Brent Collinson at 587-9233.