By MARYANN DREAS
FAIRFIELD — Charsie Haygood’s determination and bright, broad smile have carried her through the 17 years of her life.
They have also brought her through her toughest journey ever. In April 2006, the Fairfield teen was diagnosed with AML leukemia, which is usually found in adults.
On June 10, Haygood will be involved in a bone marrow registry drive at Crossroads Community Hospital.
It is the hospital’s first bone marrow registry drive, which will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. Dubbed the “Marrowthon,” it is part of the national Be the Match program. Debi Richardson, director of marketing and public relations at Crossroads, says anyone ages 18 and 60 is invited to come and complete a health questionnaire to determine if they are able to donate, then get a cheek swab. They will be registered as potential donors on the national marrow registry list until they are 60 years old. The fee normally has been covered by the program and is waived for the event.
Haygood seems and feels better, but she could relapse at any time, without warning. “You always have cancer once you get it,” Haygood explained. “My cancer cells just aren’t active right now. If I relapse, I need a bone marrow transplant immediately. But I don’t even have a match.”
According to the National Marrow Donor Program, Haygood is one of 10,000 people each year who get diseases that require a bone marrow transplant, and do not have a donor match in their family. They must find a marrow donor through the NMDP registry, a long and anxious process that only brings transplants to two out of every 10 patients needing them.
But Haygood is not letting the odds stop her. She has turned her focus to her community, working with kids with cancer and even achieving her Girl Scout Gold Award by “making people more aware of the need for bone marrow [donations].”
The program has “taken out every excuse” not to register, Richardson said, by offering online registration. People can register online for free from June 8 to 22 by using the program’s promotional code. A cheek swab kit will be mailed to them.
Although the entire process of getting registered is easy and free for this limited time, Sue Coughlin, executive administrative assistant at Crossroads, stresses the responsibility of the potential donor. “It is a commitment,” Coughlin said. “You have to be willing to be available if you’re a match.”
But Coughlin has faith the public will respond warmly to the registry drive. She says Mt. Vernon is full of “caring, donating people,” proven by Crossroads’ high success with blood drives and Relay for Life events in the past. Crossroads is the largest donor site in the Illinois-Missouri area, says Richardson, and has the highest percentage of employee donors in the region.
One of the goals of the drive is to inform people about the need for bone marrow donations and the donation process. “The more people we can educate about the facts versus the myths, the more they will pass it on to others and it will be discussed,” Richardson said.
To donate, the donor must match the patient’s DNA closely. Because this is a difficult requirement, few people on the registry will ever be called to donate. “It is so difficult to become a perfect match with somebody,” Richardson said. “The more people that join, the better the odds to find a match.”
A donor must also match the patient’s racial background. According to the NMDP, only 1.8 million people of the seven million people in the national registry are of a non-Caucasian background. Seventy-three percent of registered potential donors on the registry are Caucasian, which means the majority of non-Caucasians needing a bone marrow transplant will not receive one.
Richardson says the more racially mixed a person is, the more they are needed as a donor. “We want everyone to come, of course, but if you are not white, Anglo-Saxon, there is even more of a need for you,” she said.
John Walker, a nurse at Crossroads, once donated bone marrow. “It was by mistake — I tried to donate blood,” he said. “But I would have done it anyway.” Walker says he was told he had a “one in a million” chance of getting called to donate. Six months later, that rare chance came when he was matched with a nine-year-old boy.
Walker had the traditional surgical procedure of extracting bone marrow but now, according to the Be the Match program, 80 percent of donations are from a non-surgical process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell, in which stem cells are harvested from the donor. In both procedures, the donor usually goes home the same day of the donation. “My wife made me mow the grass [the next day],” Walker joked.
The patient’s medical insurance covers the donor’s medical costs, sometimes with assistance from NMDP. “All costs were paid,” Walker said. “You’re not out anything.”
In accordance with NMDP policies, both Walker and the boy had to remain anonymous to each other for one year, but Walker learned that the boy died before that. “But that little boy got to spend his first Christmas at home,” he said.
Haygood’s mother, Loretta, believes every marrow donation is an honor. “Even if you donate and the person lives six more good months, that’s six more months their family has had with them,” she said. “An hour to a parent means so much.”
Responding to some people’s fear of pain when donating, Charsie Haygood says the pain is minimal and if that same person needed a donation, they would hope someone else would go through a little pain to donate.
“I can’t be a donor,” Haygood said. “That’s my way of donating through them.” She hopes the registry drive at Crossroads will be a success. “I’m happy with one person because I know that’s one more person on the list,” she said. “But I certainly hope that’s not a limit.”
A new high school graduate, Haygood plans to attend Seattle Pacific University this fall and study biology. Her father, David, is sad to see her go. “If that’s where she’ll find God, then let her [go],” he said. “It’s her strong faith that’s brought her through everything.”
Charsie Haygood hopes to become a pediatric oncologist, combining her passion for battling cancer with helping kids who have it. According to her mother, the nurses at the hospital called Haygood the “Hannah Montana” of cancer kids because of her popularity with them.
In the meantime, Haygood and her family will pray for good health and continue educating people about the need for bone marrow donations. “My goal is to get the word out more,” she said. “It would be really cool if someone around here could donate because of my works.”
By MARYANN DREAS
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