November 06, 2008
A year after receiving a life-saving bone marrow transplant, a 12-year-old girl from San Antonio will finally meet the Seattle man who saved her life. Clarissa Pierce and Alan Hernandez, along with their families, will be introduced for the first time at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 9, during the National Marrow Donor Program's (NMDP) 21st Annual Council Meeting at the Hilton Minneapolis.
For nearly three years, Pierce had been in and out of the hospital as doctors tried to uncover the cause of her migraines and fatigue. Meanwhile, her health continued spiraling downward, eventually leading to a liver transplant. But that was not the end of the young girl's medical issues: a year later Pierce was diagnosed with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome). MDS prevents the body from making enough normal blood cells and can develop into a fast-growing, severe leukemia called acute myelogenous leukemia. Doctors told Pierce she needed a bone marrow transplant to survive and identified a matched donor - Hernandez - on the NMDP Registry.
Pierce received a successful transplant in October 2007. This fall, she was able to return to school and is enjoying seventh grade. On Nov. 9, she will have the opportunity to thank Hernandez in person. Pierce's mother, Michelle, also is looking forward to thanking Hernandez. "There are a lot of good people out there, selfless people willing to help out," Michelle Pierce said. "He helped a little girl who is now going to help others."
Though strangers, Pierce and Hernandez had an important link - their Hispanic heritage. Patients in need of a transplant most often find matches among people who share the same race or ethnicity. And there is a great need to expand and diversify the NMDP Registry to give all patients a second chance at life.
"Watching donors and recipients meet for the first time is the most rewarding aspect of my job because it demonstrates firsthand the life-saving potential of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation," said Dr. Jeffrey W. Chell, NMDP chief executive officer. "The pure gratitude and joy experienced by both the donor and recipient moves me to tears every time."
Hernandez joined the NMDP Registry four years ago when a friend was diagnosed with leukemia and needed a donor. When he was called in 2007 as being a potential match for a young girl, Hernandez never had second thoughts about donating, even though he had just started a new job in a different state. As a new parent, he could not imagine saying no, let alone saying no to a child in need of a transplant. With the support of his family and an understanding employer, he went forward with the donation. "I tell anybody and everybody to join the Registry. There is nothing like the good feeling you get from just registering. It has been such a blessing in my life to have been able to help someone in need."
"By sharing their stories, Pierce and Hernandez help raise awareness for the important work of the NMDP beyond the donor-recipient coordination process," said Chell. "Clarissa received patient assistance funds to help her cover expensive post-transplant medication and Hernandez benefited by having an understanding employer." To support donors like Hernandez, the NMDP works with employers across the country to implement policies that allow paid time off for marrow donation and to encourage their employees to join the NMDP Registry. And through its fundraising partner The Marrow Foundation, the NMDP raises money to help patients with medical costs associated with the transplant that are not covered by insurance.
About the National Marrow Donor Program
The NMDP facilitates unrelated marrow and cord blood transplants as a single point of access for a long-standing collaborative network of national and international leading medical facilities in marrow and cord blood transplantation. The NMDP connects patients, doctors, donors and researchers to the resources they need to help more people live longer and healthier lives. For more information call 1 (800) MARROW-2 or visit www.marrow.org. Join online at www.marrow.org/join.