14,000 people in the United States wait each year for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Sadly, only half will be matched with a donor. Those numbers hit close to home for two local families and they are now doing everything they can to change it.
Jimbo Hill is a former Sulphur High School and McNeese State University football and track stand-out.
The now 28-year-old was always healthy, until a diagnosis last summer of a very aggressive form of leukemia. He talked to us from his hospital room at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "We were really looking at six to seven months of chemo and going on with our life, but one of the numbers wasn't dropping like it should," said Jimbo.
A bone marrow transplant became the last hope for Jimbo, who had a half match with his younger brother, Chris. The transplant happened one week ago. "My body is broken and that's why I needed a new immune system," he said, "and that's what hopefully my brother's cells will do when they regenerate inside of me."
Jimbo is not alone in his desperation for healthy stem cells and bone marrow. This is the last hope for thousands of patients with blood diseases, something John Precht lived through when his son, Hayden, had leukemia.
A stranger in New Jersey was Hayden's only match and she gave the gift of life. "She didn't know us, didn't know our kids, didn't know anything about us," said John, "but knew that somebody needed it and that you're going to save somebody's life."
John is now a nursing student at MSU, inspired by his son's story as he pursues a career as a pediatric oncology nurse. He has personally helped sign-up 160 people onto the Be the Match registry as the leader of the university's drive on campus. Benita Davis with Be the Match says, "You may never match anybody. You may match somebody three months from now, you may match somebody ten years from now."
Registration is a cinch. "You get a kit and inside this kit, you're going to have swabs," said Davis, "and you're going to take one swab out at a time and go between your cheek and your gums and swab on the inside of your cheek for about ten seconds."
Swabs are then placed in the holder and mailed off to the testing site, then entered into the worldwide registry.
While millions of people are registered, more are needed today. "Last year only half got their match, which means that there are people that have died waiting and daily people die waiting for that match," said Davis.
Jimbo says he is not sure how his body will handle his brother's cells, but he has the hope that so many others are waiting for. "I've met people in these waiting rooms, going through this," said Jimbo, "they don't have matches. You can be the one person for somebody that nobody else can be."
There are two types of donations for the patient in need: peripheral blood stem cells or marrow.
You can join the registry at a Be the Match drive in Jimbo's Saturday, May 10 from 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. at Dynamic Dimensions in Sulphur. It is critically important to add 18 to 44-year-olds to the list.
If you cannot make the drive, you can also sign up online in Jimbo's honor. Click here to register online and use the promo code "JIMBO."
Another way that you can help out at Saturday's drive is to roll up your sleeve and give blood. LifeShare Blood Centers will be hosting a blood drive for Jimbo. While he will not receive the blood that is being donated, he will get credit for the blood units donated to offset some of his expenses. Donor resources coordinator, Michael Lanham explains, "He will be receiving assistance to help cover the costs involved in receiving blood or blood components during his treatment."
Jimbo has had close to 300 blood transfusions since being diagnosed with leukemia last summer.