By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
A simple swab of the cheek is all that’s needed for the first step to saving someone’s life.
“I was diagnosed in August of 2010,” Clifton Rieves said. “Before then, I had never heard of lymphoma.”
Rieves grew up in Starkville. He was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma when he was just 24 years old.
Rieves’ mother, Lashonda Malone is a Starkville resident and hopes they will find him a bone marrow match this weekend. The Starkville Fire Department Station #1, where Malone works as an administrative assistant, will hold a donor drive from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Saturday.
“There are 20 different types of lymphoma. Mine is one of the more aggressive types,” Rieves said. “We were told in the beginning, that although it was an aggressive type, that once it was cured it had a better success rate.”
He started treatment immediately, and everything seemed like it was going well. After just a few rounds of chemotherapy, a scan showed that the cancer was gone. He finished up the last few rounds of treatment in December and was told he was in the clear.
Everything was good for a few months. But just a few weeks ago, the familiar intense pain in his chest returned. It was the same pain he experienced when he was initially diagnosed.
“I called my doctor and he sent me to the emergency room to have me checked out,” he said. “They found that the cancer was back in the same place in the chest that it was the last time. It was also at the end of my trachea.”
Now, he is back in a hospital in Memphis to receive treatment. This time, doctors told him he’ll need a bone marrow transplant to save his life. But Clifton hasn’t found a donor match.
While patients first turn to family members to find a match, 70 percent have to look to the Be the Match Foundation, which helps connect people suffering from life threatening illnesses such as leukemia and lymphoma with bone marrow matches from their database of over 9 million people. The foundation helps facilitate over 5,000 donations a year.
“We’re having this registry in hopes of finding him a donor, but there are so many folks out there that need a donor too,” Malone said. “They just need people to join the registry. Not only just for Clifton, but for other people too.”
“Unfortunately, finding a matching marrow donor is not always easy or even possible. There simply aren’t enough viable donors registered. Currently, only 2 out of 10 of those suffering from these life-threatening diseases ever get the treatment that could save their lives,” Mary LeSueur from Be the Match said. She has worked with Rieves and his family to find a donor. “Donor drives will help us change that. This is a great opportunity for students, teachers, administrators and the community to help save lives.”
At the donor drive, volunteers will be asked to sign a consent form and swab the inside of their cheek. That is all that is needed to become a part of the registry. Potential donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60, meet the health guidelines, and be willing to donate if a match is found.
The foundation is always striving to make their database as diverse as possible. Patients are most likely to find matches in someone from a similar nationality. Minorities tend to have a much more difficult time finding a match. African American, Asian, Native American and Latino donors make up a very small percentage of the foundation’s database. Rieves is African American, and his best shot is finding a donor that is, too. African Americans, however, only make up 8 percent of the 9 million registered donors.
If a match is found, the donation process is fairly simple. Be the Match takes care of all the details, and makes sure all travel and medical expenses are covered for the donors.
There are two types of donations that can be made, depending on which would be best for the patient. The first, a peripheral blood stem cell donation requires an injection to increase the number of cells needed. A few days later, the donor goes through a process that is similar to donating blood. Soreness and headaches are generally a side affect of this procedure, but goes away quickly.
The second type is a bone marrow donation. This donation requires a surgical procedure, but the donor is under anesthesia. A needle is inserted into the pelvic bone and draws out liquid marrow. It is a quick process and the donor will feel some soreness in the lower back for a few days. Only 1 to 5 percent of the donor’s marrow is extracted, and the body regenerates the marrow in a few weeks.
For those who are unable to donate marrow, tax-deductable financial donations are always welcomed. The foundation provides the registration kits free of charge, help patients with their medical costs and provide funding for research.
For now, Rieves and his doctors are doing the best the can with other treatment options.
“Since we don’t have a donor at this point, the only option we have right now its to harvest my own cells and do a transplant,” he said. “That’s what we’re working out right now.”
For more information on Be the Match and bone marrow and stem cell transplants, visit www.marrow.org .