The Perfect Match: Marrow Transplants Save and Change Lives

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As Baylor Health Care System kicks off efforts to celebrate National Marrow Donor Awareness Month in November, representatives from Baylor Research Institute’s “Be The Match” marrow registry are planning a host of events throughout the month to encourage people to enter the registry.

For years, “Be The Match” has paired patients in serious need of marrow transplants with generous donors looking to make a difference. But marrow transplantation involves more than just matching a blood type—it requires that both donor and recipient have near-identical ancestral lines. And even when they do, there’s a risk that immune-system challenges could complicate the transplant.

Sometimes, though, the match is simply perfect.

From the Perspective of a Recipient

After being diagnosed with Stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 35, Cliff Ackerman spent more than two years receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments. When it became clear that the treatments provided little improvement, Ackerman joined a clinical trial for reduced-intensity marrow transplants.

However, he soon discovered that finding a match would not be easy. Even with two older sisters and a fraternal twin sister, Ackerman had no matches within his family, which is not uncommon.

“Explore."

It turned out his perfect match resided halfway across the country, in Chevy Chase, Md.

After the donor underwent the marrow collection in Maryland, the marrow was transported to Texas, where Ackerman (then 38) received his transplant in June 2000.

 “Everything worked out fine, and now, health wise, I’m doing very well, disease-free and blessed,” he said.

Within a year after the procedure, Ackerman began volunteering with Baylor at the marrow transplant unit, where he met with patients and shared his experiences. Now, the recipient-turned-recruiter (an eight-year Baylor employee), works full time in recruitment and community development at Baylor’s Be The Match program, located at the Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

When spreading the Be The Match message, he shares his own personal story to encourage others to join the registry.

“I love sharing my story,” he said. “We just need people to become more aware and informed because we are talking about an organization that is doing research and giving hope, and at Be The Match we have it. It’s you. It’s everyone in the community.”

From the Perspective of a Donor

When Nechelle Ervin received a call that she was the only match for a 15-year-old boy in California, she did not hesitate to help the child, who was about the same age as her own son at the time.

In July 2005, Ervin underwent the donation procedure locally, and the patient received the transplant on the West Coast. Now in college, the young man is doing very well, thanks to Ervin’s selfless act.

“The first thing people ask is, ‘Wow, did it hurt?’, and I say, ‘Well, I think about him. I think about all the treatments he went through as a cancer patient,’” Ervin said.

“He went through a lot of chemo and a lot of radiation so he was sick all the time. He missed two years of school because he was always so sick.”

Like Ackerman, Ervin’s involvement in the transplant process motivated her to join Baylor’s Be The Match recruitment team. She now spends her time telling others her story.

“Once you match with someone, it is like winning the lottery,” she said. “You have saved somebody’s life and there is no greater gift.”

Ervin had signed up for the registry when she visited a “Be The Match” booth at a health fair, a testament to the power of events like the ones planned this month. Patients across the world are in need of a perfect match, and it could be you. To learn more, call Pamela Kurian at 214-820-8165. 

Join Us and Be a Part of Something Recordbreaking

This year, Baylor’s Be The Match team is attempting to break a record and secure more registrations this month than in any previous month, which currently stands at 730. Help us achieve at least 1,000 marrow registrants this November by finding us at one of the following events and signing up. It’s as simple as a cheek swab, and there is no charge to the potential donor.

November 16

NVCupcake 5K and 1K Fun Run in Denton (event held in support of children with leukemia)

November 23

TUF Turkey 5K and 1M Fun Run (Lewisville: Event held in support of abused and neglected youth)

Gobble Hobble 5K (Richardson: Event held in support of The Counseling Place)

November 29-30

McKinney Home for the Holidays (McKinney Performing Arts Center)

About the author

Kristine Hughes
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Kristine Hughes is the former research communications coordinator for Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. Before Baylor Scott & White, she was an award-winning print media journalist for more than 20 years.

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The Perfect Match: Marrow Transplants Save and Change Lives