RIDGWAY – Since he was just 2 years old, when he was first diagnosed with leukemia, Max Schuetz of Ridgway has been fighting for his life.
Now 6-and-a-half, Max was cancer-free for more than a year, but the disease returned in June, when doctors found it not only in his blood, but in his cerebral spinal fluid, said family friend Mandy White.
“That makes it a lot more serious,” she said. “With chemo only,” meaning without a bone marrow transplant, “he would also have to go through radiation, and they would have to radiate his brain.”
Using radiation on Max’s brain can have serious side effects that could affect his growth and cognitive ability, she said.
That’s an option that Max’s mother Bobbi Browner would like to avoid.
“With a bone marrow transplant they would still do radiation, but wouldn’t have to do his brain,” White said.
Treatment with bone marrow also increases Max’s chances of having a cancer-free life, White said.
With chemotherapy, the odds that the cancer will be erased are 50 percent, she said, while with bone marrow, his chances for complete recovery increase to 80 percent.
The reason for the donor registration drive, which is sponsored by the Bonfils Blood Center, is that finding a match for Max has been difficult, so the more donors the better.
Registering to be part of Be the Match, an international database for bone marrow donors, will be easy at the event. All that’s needed is a cheek swab and some paperwork; it takes less time that it takes to donate blood, White said.
“You could save someone’s life for Christmas,” she said.
If a donor is found to be a match for someone who needs a bone marrow transplant, the next step is blood-work to make sure it’s a good match, White said. All expenses for the donor are paid.
Bone-marrow registrants are usually asked to make a $100 donation, but Bonfils is covering that cost, although donations will be accepted.
Max will be checked first for a match from those who register, White said, and then results will go into an international database, Be the Match Registry at bethematch.com, as part of the National Marrow Donor Program.
“You could save a life anywhere, and they pay for travel and food and the procedure,” White said.
The chance that any one person will be called to actually donate bone marrow is about one in a million, White said, but that’s a chance she hopes lots of people will take.
In a bone marrow transplant, the patient receives the donor’s healthy blood-forming cells that go directly into the patient’s bloodstream, where they begin to function and multiply, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 who meet health guidelines and are willing to donate to any patient in need.
Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is withdrawn from the back of the donor's pelvic bones using special, hollow needles. General or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure, so donors feel no needle injections and no pain during the procedure. Most donors feel some pain in their lower back for a few days afterward.