A gift for life

Jan 13, 2006

More Kettering students and young alumni have been identified as potential matches for the National Marrow Donor Registry.

The odds are in Kettering's favor regarding bone marrow donations. So far, in two bone marrow drives on campus, three students/young alumni have been identified as potential matches for cancer patients. In May of 2005 Carl Gansen, of Belle Plaine, Minn., spent two days, a week before his finals at Kettering, donating stem cells for a patient with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).

In the spring of 2005 sisters Cassandra and Lacy Piippo, of St. Ignace, Mich., were identified as potential matches for an older woman on the registry, but they may have to wait to begin the official donation process. "Once you are a potential match, then you do more testing," said Cassandra Piippo, "we were notified this fall to both be near-perfect matches for this patient."

The patient, however, is not ready to receive a bone marrow transplant, she said, "so we're just waiting until she is ready to proceed. I've been trying out the Apheresis process for the Red Cross here in the twin cities in order to donate platelets," Cassandra said. It's just like the process Carl used to donate. Since I'm an AB positive blood type (universal platelet donor), they call me about once a month to ask me to try to donate."

Lacy Piippo graduated from Kettering in December of 2005 following a year behind her sister Cassandra who graduated in 2004 with a Mechanical Engineering degree. Cassandra, 23, moved to St. Paul, Minn., to work at Guidant Corporation, a company that designs and develops cardiovascular medical products.

The Piippos became involved with the Marrow Donor Registry with Gansen when a classmate's mother was in need of a marrow donor match. Student Courtney Holder began coordinating a donor drive on campus during the fall of 2003. Her mother, Cathy Holder, died the week prior to the drive, never having received a marrow match.

The Piippos and Gansen all participated in the drive and continue to encourage other to join the national registry. "Everyone we associate with is already on the registry," said Cassandra Piippo. "I have been working with the local bone marrow foundation in St. Paul to do a drive at my employer. We're still in the planning stages, but hope to be able to do a drive here in the early spring," she said.

Approximately 5.5 million people have volunteered to donate marrow or blood cells to patient in need world wide. There are two methods of donating healthy marrow or blood stem cells. The more well known method of using a needle to withdraw marrow from a bone and a procedure called apheresis, involving removing blood from the donor, extracting the blood stem cells and returning the blood to the donor. Gansen donated his peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) using the apheresis method.

Donated stem cells are introduced into the recipient intravenously, much like a blood transfusion. Once the donated cells enter the patient's circulatory system, it takes about one month to see the first evidence of "graft" meaning the patient's marrow has begun to work and is producing new blood cells.

Each year, more than 30,000 people are diagnosed with life-threatening blood diseases such as leukemia and aplastic anemia, as well as other immune system and genetic disorders. To survive, many of these patients need a healthy marrow or blood stem cell transplant, which is only possible when donor and patient have matching tissue types. Seventy percent of patients are unable to find a matched donor within their immediate family and must search the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) registry.

NMDP volunteers must be between 18 and 60 years old and in good health. Typically, the younger the donor, the more likely they are to be called upon. For more information about the registry or becoming a marrow or blood stem cell donor, visit the NMDP website or call 1-800-MARROW-2.

Written by Dawn Hibbard
with information provided by Kim Barrett
Marrow/Stem Cell Program
Michigan Community Blood Centers