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August 26th, 2014

‘A beautiful event’ of caring

By In the Loop
Sullivans760

Bryant Sullivan, BMT Nurse Michel Benz and Joanne Sullivan

In 2012, after being diagnosed with myelofibrosis, Joanne Sullivan found herself in need of a bone marrow transplant. She found a match in an anonymous donor in Germany, whose stem cells were flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for the transplant.

Soon after her transplant, Sullivan’s three sons volunteered to be tested and added to the National Marrow Donor Registry as a way to pay it forward. Just one year later, on his mother's birthday no less, Bryant Sullivan got the call that he was a match for someone in need of a transplant. He was able to donate stem cells to someone in need on Nov. 12, 2013, just as his mother’s donor had done.

The Sullivans shared their story at a recent event at Chicago’s Navy Pier in conjunction with a Mayo Clinic Mobile Exhibit appearance in the windy city. Their positive experience helped to recruit new donors at bone marrow registration drive put on by Mayo Clinic and the Be The Match Registry.  

The decision to be a donor "was basically like a no-brainer for me," Bryant told the Chicago Tribune. "I was thrilled to be given the chance to help, to give back." As the Tribune reports, joining the registry is free and requires only that you have a cotton swab swiped quickly (and gently, we're sure) across the inside of one cheek.

While the paper reports that "most healthy people" have no problem qualifying, Mrinal Patnaik, M.B.B.S., the Mayo hematologist who served as Joanne's transplant doctor, tells the paper he's hoping the Sullivans' story will help inspire new donors to follow Bryant's lead by signing up themselves.

"I've done this for many years, and it's not common to see this kind of payback, where the mother receives cells and then one of the sons fortuitously is called up to donate," Dr. Patnaik tells the Tribune. "I think it was a beautiful event."

And while the registry, to date, "has more than 20 million people signed up," according to the Tribune, Dr. Patnaik tells the paper there's always room for more. In fact, he says, that number is "just a drop in the ocean" compared to the need that is out there right now.

"While (we have) positive stories, I can tell you heartbreaking stories where 19-, 20-year-olds have died in the hospital waiting for a match," he says. "Nobody should die waiting in the hospital for an unrelated donor source."

You can make a difference by signing up for the registry yourself right here. Then, be sure to let us know what you think about this story and others by sharing your thoughts below.

Tags: Bone Marrow Transplant, Community, Dr. Mrinal Patnaik

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