Patient Care

Stafford Man Donates Bone Marrow to Help Stranger, Honor His Young Son

Mar. 19, 2010
Garth Swanson pushes his son, Anders, on a swing.

When Garth Swanson’s toddler son was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor, he would have done anything to help save the boy’s life. University of Rochester Medical Center doctors brought his young son into remission and next week, a grateful Swanson will return the favor and help save a stranger.

He will donate stem cells at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center and a 58-year-old man with leukemia will receive the cells. The Wilmot Cancer Center offers the only program in the region for transplants of bone marrow or stem cells.

The Stafford man is familiar with donating marrow, as his 4-year-old son, Anders, did it during treatment for a pineoblastoma two years ago at Golisano Children’s Hospital. Doctors retrieved the young boy’s cells early in his treatment regimen of high-dose chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery -- and later used the stem cells to jump-start his bone marrow production. Anders has been cancer-free for two years, his father said.

Swanson and his wife, Amy, joined the Be The Match Registry, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, a few years back in support of a girl from Elba in needed of a transplant. He was contacted as a potential donor once before, but wasn’t a perfect match.

Now, after testing showed he’s a solid match for another person, the assistant professor of history at Genesee Community College said: “If my 2-year-old could do it, then I can certainly do it to help save another person.”

“It’s admirable for people to join the registry and be willing to give of themselves to help save someone who’s facing a life-threatening diagnosis like cancer,” said Jane Liesveld, M.D., clinical director of the transplant program.

The Wilmot Cancer Center’s Samuel E. Durand Blood and Marrow Transplant Program provides about 130 transplants per year and is the second largest program in New York, behind Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The team also collects about 200 donations of bone marrow or stem cells each year.

People with a variety of cancers can benefit from two types of transplants: autologous transplants using a person’s own stem cells or marrow removed previously; or allogenic transplants using cells or marrow from a matched or an unrelated donor. The Wilmot Cancer Center has performed more than 2,000 transplants since its program was established in 1989.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, there are more than 8 million people in the registry and 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.

Joining the Be The Match Registry is simple. It involves completion of a simple health questionnaire, a swab of your inner cheek and payment for the tissue typing. The next drive will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, at the Student Alumni Union at Rochester Institute of Technology.