Upstate News

February 16, 2010
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Bone marrow donor registration and lecture are set for Feb.17 at Upstate

SYRACUSE, N.Y.—When Upstate student Mae Lankes registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, she never thought she’d be called upon to save a life.

Three months after registering ? and swabbing cells from the inside of her cheeks ? Lankes (DPT Class of 2012) was told her bone marrow might be needed to help treat a cancer patient.

Lankes’ marrow wasn’t a perfect match for the patient, a 51-year-old woman with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but Lankes was told her marrow would be needed if a better match wasn’t found.

In January 2009, Lankes ? then a student at SUNY Geneseo — was told no other match had been found for the patient, and that her marrow was urgently needed.

There are two ways to donate ? having liquid marrow removed by needle from the back of the pelvic bone, or by having marrow stem cells removed through apherisis. That process involves withdrawing blood from one arm, processing it to remove selected cells and platelets, then returning it through the other arm.

Lankes was selected for apherisis, and said she watched movies during the 5 ½-hour procedure in February at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

Before donating, Lankes had to have a physical, chest X-ray, EKG, blood and urine tests and a series of shots over five days leading up to the procedure. She said she experienced flu-like symptoms for a few days from the shots (which release stem cells from the marrow into the bloodstream), but had no other side effects.

Lankes hasn’t met her recipient and doesn’t know her name, but she has received periodic updates and her recipient is doing well.

Transplant centers can update the donor about the recipient’s progress several times during the first year, and some allow contact between donor and recipient after a year if both parties consent.

Lankes’ reasons for donating date back to 2007, when one of her teammates on the SUNY Geneseo swim team was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic (or lymphocytic) leukemia, also known as A.L.L.

Jacquie Hirsch received two bone marrow transplants several months apart in 2008, but her body rejected the second one and she died that September. She was 23.

“It really did change my perspective on a lot of things,” Lankes said. “We’re young people, and we don’t think about getting sick.”

After Jacquie’s death, her family continued to promote marrow donation through a web site, Lankes and many other SUNY Geneseo students signed up.

At a Relay for Life cancer fundraiser last summer at Geneseo, Lankes spoke about her experience. “A bunch of people came up to me and said they were inspired to do it themselves,” Lankes said. “I guess I did it so that I can convince other people to donate.”

That’s what Lankes is trying to do again, this time at Upstate. She’s helping to organize a bone marrow registry drive Feb. 17, at noon in Weiskotten Hall’s 9th-floor auditorium.

A similar drive at Upstate in early 2008 was held in honor of Eunique Darby and Edward Swain, two patients at the Waters Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders. That effort registered 175 people. Darby, 15, and Swain, 19, died three days apart in November 2008 in Rochester, where they were recuperating from marrow transplants.

Lankes hopes even more members of the Upstate community sign up this time, especially students. “Signing up is painless, and most of the students here aren’t scared of needles,” she said.

And for those like Lankes who are chosen to donate and go through the process, she said, “It’s basically just a few days of flu-like symptoms, so it’s certainly worth it.”

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