You can help others join the registry by donating to "Buy a Bone Save a Life!" Contribute $10 to $100 and help cover the fee. Make checks payable to Yampa Valley Community Foundation and mail to: Bone Marrow Testing Coalition, c/o Debra and David Fresman, 40211 Lindsey Drive, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487.
Imagine you or someone you know needed a bone marrow or stem cell transplant to treat a deadly disease or immune system disorder. One of the first questions you'd ask is, "How hard is it to find a match?"
For Steamboat Springs resident Debbie Freseman, even a perfect match within her family was not enough to save her life.
Five years ago, Debbie's family, including her husband, David, were tested for compatibility. Although her sister met 10 of 10 criteria, she has multiple sclerosis, which posed a potential health risk.
Debbie had to rely on the National Marrow Donor Program and its international registry to find a match for the stem cell transplant she required. Of the nearly 5 million on the list in 2002, only two were a close enough match for a transplant.
"I am extremely grateful that Julie from Virginia became a donor," David Freseman said. "It is due to her decision that my wife is with me today."
At the time, all Debbie knew about her potential matches was that one person was from the United States and the other was from Europe. Later, when Julie chose to reveal her identity, Debbie recalls her saying that becoming a donor is "so worth it to know you've saved someone's life."
Debbie says in spite of some issues, she is feeling good today. Thanks to Julie's decision to become a donor, Debbie was able to see her daughter graduate from college and get married.
It may appear this story has a happy ending, but there could be more chapters to come.
Debbie's illness inspired other local community members to join the NMDP registry in 2002. Today, there are 250 people from the Steamboat Springs area registered. Debbie said one individual was contacted as a potential donor for a 10-year-old child. The local resident did not become the donor because the registry found a better match.
Each year, at least 35,000 children and adults will need a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, and only 30 percent will find a match within their family. The remaining 24,500 will have to find an anonymous donor.
You can have the opportunity to save someone's life by joining NMDP this Thursday at the Steamboat Springs Blood Drive at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Staff will accept applications from 12:30 to 6 p.m.
The procedure begins when you check in at the blood drive and express your desire to join the registry. You will then fill out a health history form and other paperwork, and a small blood sample will be taken. NMDP also requires a $30 fee.
The Fresemans understand the fee may discourage some from becoming part of the registry. That's why they established a fund to cover the cost.
"It's meaningful and exciting that you have the potential to save someone's life," David said. "We want to make sure that the fee is not an issue for becoming a donor."
Before joining the registry, be sure to thoughtfully consider your decision and discuss it with your family. Keep in mind that if you are ever contacted as a potential match, you will be able to decline if it is not a good time in your life to donate. You will receive information and support from the NMDP to help you decide.
If you do choose to donate, you will undergo a physical exam to discover if donating would cause you or the patient any risks. The procedure and potential side effects vary depending on the type of donation.
For more information about the steps involved in bone marrow and stem cell donation, health requirements and myths and facts, visit www.marrow.org.
Riley Polumbus is the communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.