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One Unsung Hero’s Story:
A Young Woman’s Marrow Donation
Saves 7-Year-Old Boy

May 2012


The month of May is Bone Marrow Awareness Month in New Jersey, and no one understands better than marrow donor Kimberly O’ Connor of Clifton just how important it is to register as a potential marrow stem cell donor in hopes of helping a critically ill patient somewhere in the world.

Kimberly, a very special Community Blood Services’ “Hero,” joined the national BeTheMatch registry through The HLA Registry at Community Blood Services during a marrow drive on April 17, 2007 when she was a senior at Clifton High School in New Jersey. Little did she know how soon she would be called upon to make a lifesaving bone marrow stem cell donation to save the life of a young child who lived many miles away.

Some who register are never called to donate, while others can wait many years to hear they are a match for a patient with a life-threatening disease. But in June 2010, only three years after she registered at her high school drive, Kimberly was asked to give a blood sample to see if she was a match for a 7-year-old boy with neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects young children.

Soon after, Kimberly was contacted and told that she was the perfect match. As she was getting ready to return to Union County College, she readily agreed when she was asked to be a lifesaving donor, knowing she would have to arrange with her professors to miss classes and make up assignments.

During the month that followed, Kimberly was counseled regarding her upcoming marrow donation, given a complete physical examination at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, and made several trips to the local lab for blood work.

In September of 2010, Kimberly, then only 21 years old, donated her marrow for the critically ill little boy and the marrow was hand delivered to her recipient. Kimberly says the procedure was painless and she was simply a little tired afterwards, returning to work and school four days later. Just a month later, she walked 26 miles for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York City.

The boy’s transplant was successful, with Kimberly’s marrow producing new blood for the then 8-year-old boy. Today, the boy is thriving. Kimberly still communicates anonymously through the boy’s transplant center with her recipient’s family, who expressed their gratitude for her precious gift of life.

Every day, thousands of children and adults diagnosed with leukemia or other life-threatening diseases require bone marrow or stem cell transplants to be cured - 70% of those patients will not find a donor in their own families. These patients depend upon The HLA Registry, the largest non-governmental donor center in the U.S., which has been recruiting volunteer marrow and blood stem cell donors in the community for more than 20 years.

The HLA Registry has more than 230,000 donors registered in the National Marrow Donor Program’s (NMDP’s) Be The Match Registry, the largest and most diverse registry in the world. Doctors search the Registry when they need to find donors for their patients.

Now 23 years old, Kimberly says she understands firsthand the difference being a blood or bone marrow donor can make to patients in need and the families who love them. "If I could, I would do it over and over again!" she says. Her passion about donating has led her to work at Community Blood Services, recruiting lifesaving blood donors and spreading the message about the importance of registering on the bone marrow registry.

To register to be a volunteer marrow or stem cell donor click www.bethematch.org/join and register virtually, entering the promo code DC2012. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60, meet the health guidelines, and be willing to donate to any patient in need.

You can also register at a drive in your area; by calling 800-336-3363 to receive your registration form by mail; or by making an appointment to register in person at The HLA Registry, Community Blood Services, 1 Pearl Court, Unit C, Allendale, NJ. In addition, you can help save lives by holding a bone marrow registration drive with your community group, school, business or place of worship.

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