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Judge turns to cord blood stem cells to help in cancer fight

Posted October 14, 2015

— A North Carolina Superior Court judge fighting blood cancer says he is still hopeful that he will find a bone marrow donor but says his strategy has changed.

Carl Fox, 61, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome last April. Doctors found that he was losing weight and energy because his bone marrow had stopped producing healthy blood cells.

This past summer, Fox made a big push for people – especially black people – to get on the blood marrow donor registry. An inmate even offered to help the judge.

Due to low participation among black people, there is only a 60 to 65 percent chance that black patients can find a matching donor, compared with an 80 to 85 percent chance for white people.

Fox says his hopes now rest with the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. He began a planned, month-long stay in North Carolina Cancer Hospital on Sept. 25. He has endured intense chemotherapy to kill what was left of his immune system, followed by stem cell transfusions.

The stem cells were not from a perfect bone marrow donor match, as with a sibling. Nor were they from an imperfect match with an unrelated donor; none were found. However, a cord blood stem cell match was found. It's the blood retrieved from the placenta and umbilical cord of newborn babies.

Dr. Tom Shea, director of UNC's Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant program, says a cord blood match is the third best option.

“(It) still can cure a number of patients but are often associated with a little bit more toxicity,” Shea said.

The cord blood stem cell infusions began Oct. 1. Fox said he was excited about taking the big step forward in his fight.

“In my mind, I think, in most people's minds, if you're not doing something, it's not even like you're just standing still and keep the status quo. Cancer doesn't stop,” Fox said. “I'm hoping that through this, I can be cancer free and go on with my life.”

If you are interested in being a bone marrow donor, you can register online at DeleteBloodCancer.org. You can also participate in a bone marrow drive this Saturday at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan Memorial Stadium from 4 to 7 p.m. outside the stadium and inside the stadium until 9 p.m.


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  • Charis Ober Oct 15, 2015
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    We just wanted to express our support for Judge Fox and his family as they continue through the recovery process. We think it is wonderful that he was able to find a cord blood match when unfortunately a bone marrow match was not available.

    Cord blood is a wonderful medical resource but it is tragically thrown away in 95% of births. At Save the Cord Foundation ( http://www.savethecordfoundation.org ) we educate parents about cord blood & encourage them to either donate it or bank it privately. It is used for MDS, Leukemia, Sickle Cell. . . 80+ diseases.

    In the case of Judge Fox, he needed healthy cord blood from someone else. In other cases, your own cord blood or that of a sibling is best. The world needs both public and private cord blood banks. We need to stop throwing it away. Parents, please talk to your doctor about saving your child's cord blood. Visit us @savethecord for more info and thank you @WRAL for this important story.

  • Erika Phipps Oct 14, 2015
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    A lot of people are sure they'd stop at an accident help pull someone out of a burning car, or jump in a lake or throw a line to save a drowning person. But getting on the bone marrow registry, oh *that's* too hard... The fact is, bone marrow donors won't miss what sick and dying people - often children - desperately need from them. How wonderful it'd be if the chances of matching, among both blacks and whites, were closer to 95%!