Every day, 6,000 people are searching for a bone marrow donor.
“It’s a very great need,” said Dr. Joseph McGuirk, medical director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant program at Kansas University Cancer Center. The center does about 150 transplants each year.
“They can save a lot of lives,” he said.
About 7 million people are on the registry. Of those, 5 million people are Caucasian, so there is a great need for other ethnicities.
According to Catherine Claeys, spokeswoman for the National Marrow Donor program, the chances of someone finding at least one potential match range from 88 percent if you are Caucasian to 60 percent if you are black. If you are American Indian, the chances are about 82 percent.
Finding a potential match was a concern among doctors when James Kelley, of Pomona, was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2001. He has a mixed heritage of mainly American Indian and Irish. His sister wasn’t a match, so he turned to the registry.
“They said it was pretty severe and, basically, if I didn’t get a bone marrow transplant, it didn’t look good,” Kelley said.
He spent about 14 months in and out of the hospital, getting chemotherapy treatments and tests. Doctors at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle — where Kelley spent five months — were considering using a mismatched donor.
But, his call finally came, and on Oct. 3, 2002, he underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant. A year later, he found out the bone marrow was from Margie St. Croix, of Montreal.
They became long-distance friends. In 2006, he invited her to his graduation from Haskell Indian Nations University. She showed up with her husband.
“We really hit it off and we’ve been close friends ever since,” he said.
Kelley, 42, and his wife, Shawn, are expecting twins this month, and they plan to use Croix as a middle name for one of them.
“I feel great now and have a very active life,” said Kelley, a shift coach at Del Monte Pet Foods in Lawrence.
“I will be real active when the twins arrive,” he said, laughing.