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Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Be A Bone Marrow Match" Hits Home in Riverview

Back in the spring, Andrew Dover started getting tired much easier.

"I'd walk up the stairs at my job at the Johnson City Specialty Hospital," he says, "and I'd be so tired at the top, I'd have to sit down. My supervisors were catching me sitting down when I was supposed to be working, and I would tell them 'when you see me sitting down,I just don't feel too good. In my mind, I'm thinking 'well I can't keep telling 'em that, I'm gonna get fired. I'd better get to the doctor and see what's making me so tired all the time."

That fateful day in April, was a life-changing experience.

"I was really feeling good in the doctor's office after he did some tests," says Andrew, "and I told the doctor that. He said, 'well, that's fine, but I;m going to have to put you in the hospital today. TODAY.. I mean, right away."

"You have leukemia.. chronic leukemia."

Those five words hit Andrew like a ton of bricks, but explained a lot. Extreme tiredness is one of the major symptoms of chronic leukemia that often goes un-noticed by its victims.

"I asked him if I could first go talk to my mother, my sister, and he said fine, but I need to check you in TODAY. Although I still felt pretty good, but tired easily, they checked me in. The rest of the day went by in slow motion."

Chronic leukemia is caused by too many white cells in the blood. In the United States, more than 20,000 people have it, and about 4,600 new cases are diagnosed every year, according to the Cancer Center of America. Often, people do not notice any symptoms at all, blaming the tiredness, headaches, or enlarged spleen on something else. Of the two forms of leukemia, chronic is the easier to treat; acute leukemia attacks the body much more aggressively.

"When I went to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, the doctors started talking to me about the possibility of a bone marrow transplant," Andrew says, "if a person matches to my exact bone marrow. If they can give me enough bone marrow, it would get my system to make new white cells and even out the count."

"There just are not as many donors out there as are needed," he said, "and that's potentially life-threatening."

That's why Andrew came to the "Be The Match" Bone Marrow Transplant Drive, held at the Bethel AME Church in Riverview on Saturday, October 24, 2009. He was there to offer encouragement to people who stopped by to be swabbed and have their results sent off to see if somebody matches them...somewhere.

To see pictures of the bone marrow drive at Bethel, please click Bone Marrow Transplant at Bethel.

"It warms my heart to see my friends and neighbors come out to offer themselves as bone marrow transplant possibilities," he says. "It makes me feel good that people are willing to come out and help. It's not just for me, it's for everybody. Even if they don't match up with me, they might match up with somebody else around the country."

Andrew knew most of the Riverview folks being tested this evening.. some people he did not know. One of those was Ronald Mitchell, formerly of Chattanooga. He and his family have lived in Kingsport the past 11 years, and didn't think too much about the importance of possibly being a bone marrow transplant. That is, until he heard about the drive.

"It really hit me hard," he says. "Just to think that I might have something that might save somebody's life. It makes me feel kind of special, knowing that I, and other people, are needed. People need this kind of help, and it's people you don't even know. Being the kind of person that I am, it sort of moved me into that feeling, where I'm also interested in what's going on in other people's lives, and where they might need help."

"My daughter was very interested in the program, once she heard what it involves," says Ronald. "It kinda put in her mind that at some point, everybody in this world needs somebody else at some point, whether they know them or not. Mwife was kinda sheltered about my decision. We talked about it, and I said, 'I might not be a match, but just think.. if I am, the life of a senior citizen could be saved, the life of a little baby could be saved. A person who has suffered through the illness all of their life, COULD BE SAVED with a transplant. You don't know where your bone marrow is going, but it doesn't matter. Knowing that I could be a part of that, means a great deal to me, and she understood."

"We all have the power to help and the power to give hope."

That is the motto of the new "Be The Match" registry program operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). The program has been around for the past 20 years, giving hope and saving lives through matching bone marrow transplants. The N.M.D.P says the lives of thousands of people have been save from transplants of bone marrow and unbilical cord blood.

"I'm pretty optmistic about finding a match one day," Andrew says. "Until then, I'd had to completely change my life around. No more working in the yard.. I like to mow my grass, work in the yard, but the doctors won't let me do that now. I might sink to a level that I can't bounce back from. I was hoping to grow old, be an old man, retire early. 6 more years, I could retire at 62, and maybe find a less-strenuous job just to keep busy. God had a different plan for me, and now He wants me to travel around and tell people how to beat this illness, how to cope with it, and how important bone marrow donation is."

"I love my friends and family, and I'm a lot closer to them now," he says. "Meeting new people and hearing their commitment to help the donation process just makes you feel good.

"Somebody here, may be saving a life somewhere, sometime soon."

For more informatoin about the "Be The Match" Bone Marrow Transplant Progam, please call the Cooperative Appalachian Marrow Program at 1-866-680-01371 or (800) MARROW2 (1-800-627-7692). You can also click on this link: Be The Match.