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A swab to save a life

December 1, 2010

Dan Massey knows if Wednesday's bone marrow registry doesn't help him, it will help someone else in need of a transplant.

And that's all that matters.

Massey, 61, is a former principal and educator in Catawba County who needs a bone marrow transplant after a recent diagnosis of acute mylogenous leukemia.

Viewmont Baptist Church in Hickory organized a bone marrow registry drive Wednesday to benefit Massey and possibly save his life.

"If I don't get a donor, which I hope I do," Massey said, "someone else could get help. This could potentially save the lives of 10-15 people."
Hundreds of people attended Wednesday's drive and volunteered to be part of the national bone marrow registry.

Sandi Hood, a pastor at Viewmont Baptist Church, said the church wanted to do something to help Massey after hearing of his diagnosis.

"We just had to do it," Hood said. "It wasn't something he asked us to do. We just had to help out, and the response was instantly overwhelming."
The church organized the drive in about a month. Holding the event as soon as possible was important because of the extent of Massey's illness, Hood said. The church also coordinated the event based on Massey's treatment schedule to ensure he was feeling his best at the time of the event, so he could attend.

Massey was at the drive Wednesday, and he said he was incredibly thankful for everyone who volunteered to be a bone marrow donor.
"I feel I am so supported by the community," he said.

Massey is a lifelong educator who worked as a teacher, coach and principal in several North Carolina counties, including Catawba County.
He retired in 2004 after serving as Hickory High School principal for 14 years. He also served as principal at Newton-Conover High School and as a mentor for new teachers.

The number of lives Massey touched as an educator was evident Wednesday as people from Hickory Public Schools and Newton-Conover City Schools came to the drive to sign up and show their support for him.

"Hickory Public Schools put out a request," said Gail Weimers, a HPS employee. "So that's why I'm here."

According to the national Be the Match Registry, thousands of patients with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases are on the list for a bone marrow donor. Seventy percent of patients, which includes Massey, don't have a donor in their family. Those patients turn to relative strangers in the hope of finding a bone marrow match.

The process to become a donor takes about 20 minutes. Potential donors watch a video about the process to become a donor, and they also fill out forms outlining their medical history and other personal history.
After filling out forms, each potential donor takes several cotton swabs and rubs them in their mouths and inside their cheeks. The swabs are sent to the national registry, and the DNA-makeup of each potential donor is compiled in the registry in the hope of finding a match.

Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60, be willing to donate to any patient in need and fulfill heath requirements.

According to Be the Match, donating bone marrow can take up to 30-40 hours, including time for travel and appointments, during a four to six week period.

Donors don't pay for expenses incurred during the donation process.
There are two ways to donate, including peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) and marrow donations.

PBSC, the most common donation form, is a non-surgical outpatient procedure. Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure, where a doctor withdraws liquid marrow from the back of a donor's pelvic bone.

Melissa Weiss, of Hickory, knows a few things about being a donor. Her husband is waiting for a liver transplant, and she saw Wednesday's drive as an opportunity to give back.

"We give blood, and we do other things to help," Weiss said. "I thought, 'This is something I can do.'"

For more information about becoming a bone marrow donor, visit BeTheMatch.org.

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