Rare Bone Marrow Double-Match Allows Both Husband, Wife to Save Strangers’ Lives

February 26, 2008

Bob and Jeannine DeRoo are a statistical anomaly. Within a month, the Rochester, N.Y., area husband and wife learned they were potential matches for strangers in need of a life-saving bone marrow donation. It’s unusual for both a husband and wife to be contacted as possible matches, and extremely rare for it to occur within a few weeks.

Without hesitation, they each agreed. Mr. DeRoo donated in early January and his wife followed with a donation earlier this month at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“We’re humbled by this chance to help someone else,” the DeRoos said. “Our faith is that our lives are a gift from God and to be able to help someone else is truly an honor.”

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, anyone in the registry has a 1 in 200 chance of being contacted as a potential match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant. The odds of two people in a family being contacted to donate for a stranger are 1 in 40,000. The donations benefit individuals with leukemia, lymphoma or other blood disorders who need the transplant.

“We can’t recall a time when a husband and wife were both contacted in such a short period of time to donate to a stranger,” said Kristin Spargo of the NMDP in Minneapolis.

The DeRoos joined more than 7 million others in the NMDP registry two years ago to support a friend in need of a transplant. While they weren’t matches for their acquaintance, they welcome the opportunity to help others because the need is critical.

Mrs. DeRoo recalled a time in an elevator when she heard a woman talk about her grandson undergoing cancer treatment. She fought back tears as she felt the grandmother’s heartache and despair. “I lost it right then. If this were our children, we’d be praying for a match and hoping that someone would do this for us,” said Mrs. DeRoo of Greece. “At that moment, it really put a face on what we were doing. The people who need these gifts are a daughter, mother, or sister, or friend.”

When people donate marrow or stem cells, they receive few details about the recipient. In the DeRoos’ cases, the recipients are 19-year-old and 36-year-old women. A year after the cells are transplanted, they could meet the recipients if they all agree, according to NMDP regulations.

“Some patients really want to meet the people who donated marrow to save their lives,” said Sharon Swift, R.N., C.H.T.C., nurse coordinator for Wilmot’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. “Many times people feel a real connection to one another and they exchange anonymous letters through the NMDP.”

Swift and a team of hematologists and oncology nurses work with patients undergoing blood and marrow transplants at the Samuel E. Durand Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit at the Wilmot Cancer Center. Each year, approximately 120 transplants are performed and another 14 donations are retrieved from local donors. The Wilmot Cancer Center performs the most blood and marrow transplants in upstate New York.

Two Live-Saving Procedures

When the DeRoos learned they could be a potential match, they underwent medical testing to make sure the donation was medically safe for them and a perfect match for their recipients.

There are two types of collection techniques. Some donors have marrow removed from their pelvic bones during one-day surgery, while others have peripheral blood stem cells retrieved in a procedure similar to a platelet donation the American Red Cross routinely performs.

Hematologists retrieved marrow from Mr. DeRoo’s pelvis and his wife will donate peripheral blood stem cells.

“The way we do the collection depends on the recipient’s form of cancer, their stage of disease and the availability of the donor,” Swift said.

Joining the Registry

Joining the NMDP registry is simple. It involves completion of a simple health questionnaire, a swab of your inner cheek and payment for the tissue typing. Many times in Monroe County, a local foundation, Christopher’s Challenge will sponsor donor drives and cover the cost of the tissue typing, which can be more than $50.

The next marrow donor drive will be from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at Penfield High School. For more information, call the local NMDP office at (585) 271-4861.

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For Media Inquiries:
Leslie White
(585) 273-1119
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