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Local deacon’s cancer sheds light on bone marrow transplants

A local church deacon may have a chance to beat cancer if a match results from a search for bone marrow donors Thursday.

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Robert Crook, standing, deacon of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Bellefontaine, speaks with friends, family and church members as they arrive to sign up to be screened for bone marrow donations Thursday. Mr. Crook suffers from a rare form of cancer and is in need of a transplant. (EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES)

Robert Crook, who serves as a deacon at St. Patrick Catholic Church, was diagnosed in February with myelofibrosis, a type of leukemia that attacks the bone marrow, and leads to worsening fatigue and pain and possible swelling of the liver.

“It’s fairly rare,” Mr. Crook said as he greeted friends, family and church members that came to Makley Hall to learn if they could be a potential match. “There are only 16,000 to 18,000 people diagnosed with it in the U.S. I don’t mind being rare, but I don’t like being that rare.”

But it’s not easy to find marrow donors.

An exact match must meet strict physical requirements and be of a healthy age to donate, church administrator and retired nurse Anne Reames said.

After filling out necessary paperwork, nurses use a swab to collect tissue from inside the mouths of potential donors. Those samples are then sent off to labs to determine if they do match the client. If not, the donor is compared to other patients on a national waiting list to determine if a donation could help someone else.

While screening is free for the volunteers, it costs the bethematch.org nonprofit group $100 per sample to process and store, Ms. Reames said.

And if a match is made, a volunteer has the opportunity to back out of the procedure, which may entail collecting the marrow directly from the center of a pelvic bone. Many donations in today’s medical environment can be made by collecting stem cells from blood draws, the nurse noted.

“About 30 percent of all people who end up being a match decide not to do it,” Ms. Reames said. “That’s why we stress committed donors only.”

For more information, visit bethematch.org.

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