A complete stranger saved the life of a Carmel Valley woman. Now she's hoping you'll consider doing the same for someone else.
Nan Lansdowne is the woman behind an upcoming Bone Marrow Donor Registry Drive at Monterey Peninsula Collage. But as the flyers she hands out will tell you, this drive is not about her. The drive is about saving a 22-year-old college student named Janet, a six-year-old girl named Millie or any of the 10,000 other people waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Lansdowne wants to help them because she’s been in their shoes.
Five years ago Nan Lansdowne was diagnosed with leukemia. Her health deteriorated quickly. “I said goodbye to my seven-year-old daughter. I planned my funeral mass, picked out all my favorite hymns” said Lansdowne. Her only hope was a bone marrow transplant. “I found out my brother didn’t match me, and my sister didn’t match me. So I was pretty much up the creek without a paddle. And I remember the doctor telling me, well look there are 11-million people in the registry, so maybe one of them will be match for you,” said Lansdowne.
Most people who need a bone marrow transplant don’t find a match in their family. So they turn to the Be The Match registry run National Marrow Donor Program. “Every year we have 10,000 patients searching for that match. And it is usually the blood cancer patients, the leukemia, the lymphoma. But there’s also other rare, deadly diseases that people are battling, and this could be used as a treatment, and a cure,” said Trina Brajkovich with Be The Match. Today the registry has 9.5-million people who are willing to donate bone marrow. It sounds like a large pool, but matches are difficult. Only about half of those in need of a lifesaving transplant get one. “I lose more patients than end up being saved,” said Brajkovich.
And that’s what makes Nan Lansdowne lucky. “I was in the hospital, and it was my 53rd birthday. I got a phone call that there was a 1 in 11-million match for me, and it's she who wound up saving my life,” said Lansdowne. She is DeAnna Burke from Virginia. She joined the donor registry in college, and didn’t hesitate when she got the call about five years later. “In the case that I needed it, or someone I loved needed it, I would hope that some stranger that didn’t know us would do the same,” said Burke.
Donating bone marrow can involve a surgical procedure where a needle removes the marrow from the donor’s hip bone. However, it’s become more common to do a non-surgical Peripheral Blood Stem Cell donation, or PBSC. To prepare for PBSC the donor gets a drug that increases the number of stem cells released into the blood stream. At the time of the donation, the donor has a needle in each arm. The donor’s blood goes into a machine that extracts the stem cells, and returns the blood. This is how Burke donated, and saved Nan Lansdowne’s life. “I never really thought that I helped somebody that much, but I guess I did,” said Burke.
The Bone Marrow Donor Registry Drive is Wednesday, March 7th at Monterey Peninsula College. To get on the registry, you have the inside of your cheek swabbed and a commit to donate, if one day you’re a match. Find more details here.