Health Team

Bone marrow donors save lives

Posted November 12, 2010 1:23 p.m. EST

— You might save a life simply by joining a bone marrow donor registry. People with a variety of blood diseases often need a matching donor's stem cells found in the bone marrow.

Ginger Curlee credits her donor's gift for giving her a new and active life.

Two years ago, Curlee went to her doctor because she was feeling fatigued and tired a lot. Her doctor recommended a blood test.

"I got a call from the results of the doctor's office, that I needed to go straight to the emergency room," she said.

Curlee needed an immediate blood transfusion because of what she later learned was acute myeloid lukemia. She went through two rounds of chemotherapy and went into remission.

Then, Curlee waited for someone on the bone marrow registry to be identified as a suitable HLA, or human leukocyte antigen, match.

"HLA is like a fingerprint of their cells, and that's what we're matching," said Dr. Nelson Chao, chief of the Division of Cellular Therapy in Duke University's School of Medicine.

Donors give bone marrow through two ways. They can give bone marrow, which requires anasthesia and a few days of recovery.

They can also give blood. The donors are given a growth factor that "releases the stem cells that we want into the blood," Chao said.

Curlee said her bone marrow transplant was a gift that allowed her to get back into racing form to swim in last summer's U.S. Transplant Games.

"(I) won two gold medals and two silver, and it was just a wonderful experience for the whole family," she said.

Curlee hopes to meet the woman who was her donor.

"I can't even say how much gratitude for her," she said. "Such a selfless act. She saved my life."

Duke University is holding a bone-marrow donor drive at Hendrick Chevrolet on Roxboro Street in Durham Saturday. The drive runs 10 a.m.-3 p.m. It involves a simple cheek swab and some paperwork.