An Unusual Twist of Fate: Erma’s Story

Posted June 30th, 2010 by Be The Match and filed in Donor Stories, Patient Stories
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When Erma’s husband Franco was told he needed a bone marrow transplant, he learned that he could have a hard time finding a donor match, since only 7% of Be The Match Registry® members are African Americans, and patients tend to match those who share their ancestry.

Erma got involved right away, organizing to recruit members of her community to the Be The Match Registry. She never guessed that she would be called as a match for someone else even before her husband received his transplant.

Erma’s story
My husband Franco was an engineer, a fun guy, probably the calmest man I’ve ever met. When he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, we were told that he would need a bone marrow transplant at some point. They also told us that for African Americans, it could be a challenge to find a donor match.

We have five children. The youngest was two at the time. So I was determined to do whatever I could to make sure that when Franco needed a donor one would be there for him. I called people to organize. I called Rod, my contact at the local Be The Match recruitment center. I would say “Rod, how many people did you sign up today?”

I just wanted to make sure we signed up as many people as we could. It wasn’t just for me. It was for my children. It was for my husband. If you were healthy, I wanted you on the registry.

Two phone calls
When we began planning for my husband’s transplant, we learned there were six possible matches for him. There was an anxious wait as Be The Match tried to contact each donor and find out if they were available to donate and a good match.

Of course, I joined the registry too. I thought the chances of being called were low. But one day, I got a phone call that I was the best match for a leukemia patient who desperately needed a transplant. I couldn’t believe it.

The next day I got a second phone call. I remember I was home waiting for the cable guy when the phone rang. Franco had a match! When I heard they’d found a donor, I just screamed into the phone, I was so excited.

Donating
I was a little afraid to donate, but everything in me said this is the thing to do. Here my husband was, needing a donor, and here I was, with the opportunity to be a donor for someone else. It made me very happy to be able to give back, to help someone else.

After my marrow donation, when I was ready to leave the hospital, they told me to be sure and pick up my prescription of pain pills. I said okay, but I felt fine. Later on that night, I understood why they told me to take the pills. I did feel a little discomfort. It wasn’t pain; it was stiffness. It lasted for a couple of days and I was able to go back to work afterward.

The little discomfort I went through was nothing compared to what it meant to me, to be involved in saving another person’s life.

The gift of time
We were so thankful for Franco’s donor to come through. The donor had to wait a while, because Franco had an infection and that delayed the transplant. We were so glad the donor hung in there and didn’t give up on us.

Franco lived five and a half years after being diagnosed with cancer. Every moment meant a lot to us. His donor gave us a few more months with him, and we’re so thankful to that donor for giving us more time together.

Still committed to Be The Match
My children have seen what a difference Be The Match made in our lives. In fact, when my oldest son turned 18, he signed up for the registry. He’ll be there if they ever call him.

Ten years ago, I didn’t know anything about marrow donation or Be The Match. Now I know, and I’m doing everything I can to spread the word. Everyone should get involved –- from joining the registry, to donating umbilical cord blood, to raising awareness, just telling people how they can help.

33 Responses to “An Unusual Twist of Fate: Erma’s Story”

  1. pat vitone says:

    What a beautiful, bittersweet story! I am so sorry that Franco could not be with you even longer. However, I am so happy that you were able to help another family.
    God bless you and your family.

  2. Rosemarie Wallace says:

    Hi Erma – it was so nice reading your story. Thank God for donors. My son did not get the opportunity to get a transplant because he died from the chemo treatment and infections. I have since signed up as a donor and I pray to God that I if do get the call to donate, my health will allow me to do so. It would be my honor to give someone the opportunity to spend more time with their family

  3. Jeff Holesinger says:

    Erma,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a living donor (I donated a kidney to my brother in law) and he led a full active life for 7 more years before he passed from a brain hemorrhage. It was wonderful to see how much he appreciated his “extra time” and I hope I can be a bone marrow donor for someone who needs it.

    • Diane Holesinger says:

      Please read my comments about this man. He may have saved one life but later destroyed 5 others.

  4. Diane Turscak says:

    I’ve been on the organ donor and bone marrow doner list for over 20 years. I got close once to giving bone marrow. I think it is the best form of recycling there is! And I think anyone who is willing to be a organ donor should go to the top of the list in the event that they ever need an organ. The potential donors would be standing in line to sign up! And the shortgage of donors would soon be a thing of the past!

  5. Beverly Hayes says:

    Hi Emma, God bless you and your family always.

  6. Terry Correll says:

    Diane that is a great idea. Someone needs to get behind it and make it happen. Maybe even extend it to your immediate family so that parents would be inspired to get on the list for the benefit of their kids.

  7. Janice Rogers says:

    Hi Erma,
    I am a bone marrow recipient. I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in November, 2005. I actually think that I was misdiagnosed at least a year before. However, my sister was a match and I received my transplant August 23, 2006. Thank the Lord, I have done wonderfully and I am grateful for every day that HE gives me. Just wanted to say that my husband and my son signed up afterwards. Thank God for donors.

  8. Jean C says:

    Hi Erma,
    I am sorry for your loss. I thank you for sharing your story. Having more time with a loved one is a gift.
    Last Oct at a local Walmart they posted a “Be the Match” drive. I went back and signed up. Recently I got the call. I just did the lab work and now am waiting to see if I am needed.
    I was told that a 6 yr old girl needs a donor. Just having a chance to give a family time together is beyond words.
    I have asked more people to sign up and tell them what Be the Match is.

  9. Shawn Guthrie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am on the donor list and I hope that I will some day get the opportunity to help someone. I am very sorry that your husband did pass away but very happy that you and your children were able to have some extra time with him.

  10. Ellen Wilson says:

    My son just donated stem cells for a 40 year old female with leukemia. I am so proud of him and I pray the that women does well.

  11. Courtney says:

    What an amazing story….i signed up to be a donor after my mom passed away from multiple myloma. God bless you and your family!

  12. Derek J. Parker says:

    Years ago I was on standby, but not called. If ever called, it will be an honor and privilege to help someone. A close cousin of mine joined later than me, but was called upon and gave, and saved a life. I am so proud of her and all others who have given as well as those who are on standby to step up and give.

  13. sandy Hemmenway says:

    I so believe in this cause…To join it takes little time, but the outcome of joining can mean a lifetime….or in this case more time with loved ones. God bless!

  14. Rene Ortiz says:

    Hi Emma like you i am waiting to be a donor I did worked as a marrow recruiter in Fla, now i am in Puerto Rico back home waiting for the call I will be ready the best thing is wheen you get to meet the patient and the donor nothing in this word compares to that joy. Bless you and your family.Minorities dont understand how important is this program
    Rene Ortiz

  15. Sharon Honeycutt says:

    Your story was very moving. I signed up for be the match and 5 months later I was told that they found a possible match. I had the blood work done and I was in fact a match for a 48 year old woman. I was told that I wouldn’t be needed right now but I could be called later on. They wouldn’t tell me why. Only that she wasn’t sick enough yet, her doctor had found onther form of treatment, or she was too sick at the time. It has now been almost a year. I just pray that she is doing well. If they call I’m ready. It could very easily be someone in my family or my own son that could need a transplant someday.

  16. Kelle Doucet says:

    Hey Erma,
    I was called to be a donor in 2003 for someone who had mulitple myloma, but he could not achieve remission after all of the bloodwork/ physical had been done. They put me back in the registry and 3 months later I was a match for a 16 year old suffering from AML. The bone marrow harvest was on July 22, 2004 and this was the most profound thing that I ever did in my life. Unfortunately, my recipient lost his battle in December of the same year, but I hope that I gave the family time…time that counted with this young man. Thank you for your story and God bless.

  17. Cheryl Price says:

    Emma God bless you and your family. I donated white blood cells to a young lady with cancer. March 2009, she made through, and asked me to donate a second time. She was to sick for the second treatment, and didn’t make it. I was on the list for more then 10 years before I was called.
    Cheryl

  18. Tui Peau says:

    I got curious and started reading on this website because I have a niece who is battling ALL which is Acute A. . Leukemia. Sorry, I don’t know how to pronounce or spell the word. She is in Honolulu undergoing chemo while my family prays for a bone marrow match. I’ve been inspired reading up on Emma’s story. I have signed up to be on the Bone Marrow Registry. I’ve never had anyone diagnosed with Leukemia in our family of polynesian ancestry before as I find it rare in the islands. Thank you all for commenting.It gives me strength knowing if I’m called, I will not be afraid to donate. God Bless. Tui

  19. Tui Peau says:

    Hello, I’ve posted a previous comment sharing that a niece of mine in Honolulu since April 2010 is undergoing Chemo. Her name is Sharring. She is our warrior and I paid a visit to meet her end of May prior to leaving for the USA. At first, I was so surprised to see her long black hair disappear in a matter of days. Sharring Fa’amalo Niusulu has a positive attitude, is tired after her treatments . . . I will plan to do research in How to conduct a Bone Marrow Drive in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Thank you Erma for sharing your story. God bless you and your children. Mrs. Tui Peau

  20. Christine Oquendo says:

    Erma you are an inspiration to us all. I was placed on the Donor list in 1998 when my 7 year old son, Justin needed a bone marrow transplant for A.L.L. We were not able to find a match and within a few months he was gone. Since that time I have dedicated myself and my career to helping others fight this battle. As you know, what can possibly be more important than saving lives?
    http://community.lls.org/people/miracleskidcare?view=profile
    May God continue to give you hope and strength and Bless You and your children with the love of your husband, Franco shining down forever!

  21. Kathleen Hart says:

    If it wasn’t for people like the ones signed up on this list, my step-daughter would never have lived to see her newborn graduate high school. My Granddaughter graduated the beginning of June and it was one of the proudest days of her Momma’s life. If it wasn’t for her kind donor she would not be here 19 years after being diagnosed with Leukemia. Thank you to everyone who takes that step to commit to making a difference in another’s life and the lives of their families.

  22. a potential donor says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I recently matched with someone (after 11 years on the registry), and everything was all set to go until I was told it had to be postponed because of a change in the recipient’s condition. Since they can’t give me any more information, it is hard not to worry that the situation will get worse and it won’t be able to happen at all. It is so encouraging to hear your husband’s story, and that donations really do happen after a postponement. Wishing you an your family all the best.

  23. Lesley Gorny says:

    What an inspirational story! As a nurse I see the need in the community every day so one day when my building had a “Be The Match” drive I was excited to sign up! It seems such a simple thing to do to change someones life forever…Lesley

  24. Daniel says:

    Awesome! Life is a gift from God. God bless everone.

  25. Ginny says:

    My sister received a bone marrow transplant Nov 2008. Her donor is in Italy. My sister had AML and is doing great and continues to reach out to her donor to thank him. I continue to encourage people to sign up so everyone has a chance. I hope to be called as well.

  26. Valerie J says:

    Erma, thank you for telling your story. I hope more people will sign up to be donors. I signed up way back in 1995 and I am still ready to answer when I’m called.

  27. Sabine says:

    Erma,
    I got this through the Be The Match program, and we live 5 houses apart! I’m proud to have been with the program for many years. Thanks for sharing your story!

  28. Karen says:

    Erma, I appreciate you sharing your story. My husband also had multiple myeloma and although he didn’t have a donor marrow transplant, he was the recipient of numerous blood and platelet transfusions. He would never have survived the 7 1/2 years without those wonderful donors. My kids and I appreciated every minute we had with him.
    I agree with Diane, too, give top priority to those willing to donate and there will be no shortage.
    To everyone out there, if you can donate, please sign up for the marrow registry, please donate blood at your local blood center, and please sign up for organ donation. What a wonderful way to give of yourself!
    To Erma, God bless you and your kids always!

  29. Be The Match , Archive » Church answers the call to save a life says:

    […] “I believe the first step is awareness,” explains the Bishop. “Many people did not understand there are people sitting right here in the congregation who could have the answer for somebody’s life. Once Franco’s wife Erma explained there were things we could do, there was an immediate response. (Read Erma and Franco’s story.) […]

  30. Diane Holesinger says:

    What Jeff Holesinger failed to mention is that after we supported and stood by him during the whole process , he walked out on his 4 kids and I to move in with his mistress. During which time our home was in foreclosure and all utilities had been shut off and he refused to help us even when we were forced out to the streets.

  31. Stephanie Sizemore says:

    I signed up for the registry when I was 19, and when I was 21 I recived a call about being a match for someone. I donated my PBSC only a couple months later. It is an amazing oportunity to be able to help someone in need. The be the match organization saves peoples lives 🙂

  32. Nikki Lester says:

    Diane Holesinger – I’m sorry your husband left you but posting comments like that on a donor story just makes you look bad and has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

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