Parents urge blood donations
URBANA — As they sat with their son in a pediatrics unit at a Peoria hospital, Jeremy Heath and Jennifer Difanis became acutely aware of the need for blood donations.
"We were around kids that had cancer, kids who need blood daily to survive," Heath said.
Their own son, Joe Heath, needed only two units of blood to restore his level sufficiently to get him through several diagnostic tests and later a surgery to remove a damaged kidney.
"I watched Joe (as he was getting the blood). It was amazing. Before the first unit was in, holy cow, he perked right up," said his grandfather, Tom Difanis.
A recipient of blood tranfusions himself several years ago, the elder Difanis said he understood the importance of it but still marveled at how just a little blood revived the sick grandson who shares his same birthday.
That's why Joe's family is asking that for his birthday, people give blood or be tested as bone marrow donors so that others can have a chance at life.
Most people know about giving blood but may not know as much about being a bone marrow donor.
The national registry, Be The Match, has about 10.5 million people in it but not everyone can find their match, said Amanda Howie, donor relations coordinator for Community Blood Services of Illinois.
"You have to be a perfect 10 out of 10 match. Most people think you find the match in your family but only 30 percent find their match in their family," she said.
That means 70 percent of those in need turn to the kindness of strangers. And when a match is made through the registry, the donation of bone marrow is not as difficult as you may think.
"Seventy-five percent of the time it's like a platelet draw except we are harvesting stem cells. You have a needle in each arm and a machine that takes stem cells out," she said. The draw can take four to eight hours.
"The other 25 percent of the time is a traditional marrow harvest. You are always under anesthesia. People wake and say they feel like they fell on the ice. We never say it's painless, it's just not as bad as it might seem," Howie said.
The costs associated with marrow donation — both testing and harvesting — are covered either by the recipient's insurance or the national Be The Match Foundation, which relies on cash donations, Howie said.
Those who aren't sure if they'd be willing to donate marrow shouldn't be tested to see if they are a match, she said.
"Whenever someone seems iffy, I tell them by getting on the registry, you are giving patients hope. If you are not serious, don't even swab. There is nothing worse than being told you may have just killed that patient's hope," she counseled.
The biggest restriction for bone marrow donation is age.
"You have to be between 18 and 44," Howie said. "You can remain on the registry until age 61 but we prefer young donors because their cells are more viable."
Anyone with questions about the process should go to bethematch.org.
Those who can't attend the March 7 event can get a marrow kit through the website using code JosephHeath to join.
Howie said there will also be a campus-wide marrow match testing on March 14 from noon to 6 p.m. at the Illini Union and Allen Hall in Urbana and at Ikenberry Commons residence halls and the NIKA House, 112 E. John St., in Champaign.
Bone marrow swabs and blood donations can also be done at Community Blood Services of Illinois, 1408 W. University Ave., U.
Howie said the chances that a marrow donor will be found for Joe Heath on March 7 are slim.
"The chances of someone in this community matching Joe is one in a few million but the chances of matching a stranger is one in 540," Howie said.
Joe Heath's 2nd Birthday Party
PRESENTS REQUESTED: Blood and/or willingness to be a bone marrow donor.
WHERE: Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St., U.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.
YOU MUST: Make an appointment to donate blood by calling Community Blood Services of Illinois at 800-217-GIVE (4483) or by going online to: bloodcenter impact.org. An appointment is not necessary that day for the cheek swab for potential marrow donors.
WILLING MARROW DONORS: Must be between 18 and 44 and be willing to be a match for anyone, not just Joe Heath.
COST TO DONORS: None.
BENEFIT TO RECIPIENTS: Life.