“My marrow donor gave me my hope and my future,” said Rachael

Posted August 5th, 2013 by Be The Match and filed in News, Patient Stories
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Rachael-and-MikeRachael’s story begins in 2006, when as a sophomore in college she went in to the doctor with a foot infection that would not heal.

The doctor found that her blood counts were abnormally low. It was then, at the tender age of 20 years old, that Rachael was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a disease in which an abnormal bone marrow does not make enough normal blood cells for the body.

Rachael was referred to a hematologist, a physician who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and/or investigation of blood disorders, who said that she would need blood transfusions or that she could develop leukemia. The hematologist referred Rachael to a bone marrow transplant doctor. “My heart sank. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad,” said Rachael. It was at this doctor’s office that Rachael was told that she had cancer, that she would have to take a year off of school and would need a marrow transplant.

A year prior to her diagnosis, Rachael’s brother had been the perfect match for a stranger and donated peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC), one of the two methods of donation, to help save her life. Unfortunately when Rachael was told she needed a marrow transplant, her brother was not the best match and she was told she would need to search the Be The Match Registry for her match. This was very hard on her brother, as he desperately wanted to help save the life of his little sister.

The search for a match

Three months into searching the Be The Match Registry, a nearly perfect match was found. Her donor matched 9 of out 10 HLA markers, critical to the success of a marrow transplant. With Rachael’s MDS moving quickly towards leukemia, they needed to act fast. On October 6, 2006, Rachael received her life-saving transplant. After transplant, Rachael spent 6-8 months in and out of the hospital and began to feel better in the spring of 2007. She returned to school in August 2007.

Like some transplant recipients, Rachael experienced graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a common side effect of marrow transplant. In addition to GVHD, Rachael experienced joint issues, lung issues and has had two hip replacements. This was a very rough period of time for Rachael. She continues to get checkups regularly, but is happy to do so. “In the grand scheme of things, I am happy where I am today,” said Rachael. I’d rather see my doctors more often to know that I am healthy, rather than not knowing if something is wrong.”

The special connection between donor and recipient

The first time Rachael met her donor, Mike, was just over a year after her transplant in New York City for Thanksgiving. Mike then came out to Kansas City to meet Rachael’s entire family and her team of doctors. The special relationship between Rachael and Mike grew over time and they even shared a special dance at Rachael’s wedding.

“My donor gave me my hope and my future,” said Rachael. “Because of him I was able to graduate college, get married, live out my dream job.”

“… my life, my passion, it is the reason I am alive today”

Since her transplant, Rachael has been committed to sharing her story and inspired to grow the Be The Match Registry. For five years before becoming a full-time staff member, Rachael volunteered her time for Be The Match, recruiting nearly 5,500 people to the registry as a Be The Match Ambassador. Today she is a Marrow Donor Recruiter for Be The Match. Today, she brings a photo of herself with her life-saving cells before transplant to each of her marrow registry drives, telling her amazing story and inspiring hundreds more to join the registry.

Today, Rachael is 27 years old and cancer-free. It has been seven years this month since her diagnosis and this coming October it will be seven years since her transplant.

“The Be The Match Registry is my life, my passion, it is the reason I am alive today. My donor, my brother, my best friend and numerous other individuals have gone on to donate to someone in need. I am eternally grateful to my donor, my family and friends, my husband, the team of doctors and nurses who were there by my side each step of the way.”

Inspired by Rachael’s story? Host a marrow registry drive in your hometown>

10 Responses to ““My marrow donor gave me my hope and my future,” said Rachael”

  1. Marva Harper says:

    I have been on the registry for over 20 years and have kept in touch hoping one day I will get the call to save a life. I live in Colorado Springs, and would love to be involved with a bone marrow drive here. Can you give me a contact here in Colorado Springs? Thank you for all you do!!!
    Sincerely,
    Marva Harper
    8489 Windy Hill Dr
    Colorado Springs, CO 80920

    • admin says:

      Hi Marva, great to hear from you! Thanks for reaching out about hosting a drive. If you are interested, please fill out this form and we will contact you with more details! https://secure.bethematch.org/Get_Involved/Grow_the_Registry/Host_a_Drive.aspx?terms=host+a+drive

  2. Joel says:

    I know Rachael and her story touches me every time I hear it. I heard Rachael’s story with her and her donor sharing their journey. I immediately signed up to be a donor. My wife told me that I would get selected as a match because I hate blood, hospitals, needles, etc…. I once passed out when my wife was getting stitches in her arm.

    After signing up several people told me they had been signed up for years and the chances of getting selected were very slim.

    But my wife is always right! A few short months passed and I had forgotten about signing up. Then I received a call indicating I was a possible match. I was asked if I was still willing to proceed, and if so, they would get back to me in a few weeks. I said yes and I think it was just a few days later when I started the process.

    I donated and never had the chance to meet the person. I often wonder who and how this person is doing. Even though we never met I still pray for this person. I am so glad I had the opportunity to donate and it was a great experience.

    Thanks to Rachael for sharing her story another person out their found the donor they needed.

  3. Phil says:

    Is this a true story? Though it sounds like a great story, I thought there was an age limit on being a donor? 45 years and up? The gentleman donor appears to be around that age.

    • Jean says:

      Although they like the donors to be younger, my aunt was my donor at age 73. She not only gave once, but had to go in a second time because I needed more platelet cells. Sadly, she just passed last year at age 93, but was so very proud of the fact that she was able to save my life. Even at that age, she never thought twice about it! She was an awesome Christian woman who I know is smiling down on me today!

  4. Stephanie V says:

    You’re more likely to be selected as a donor if you’re 44 or under, but ages 45-60 can still donate. Had to check their website because it raised the question in my mind since I am 44+.

  5. Linda Mitchelson says:

    Hi Rachael,
    My Son Dj who is 24 was diagnosed with t-cell lymphoma in August 2012. After 8 months of massive amounts of chemo, his cancer only stayed in remission about 4 weeks. So, now the cancer is back & in his bone marrow as well as lymphnodes. His only chance at surviving cancer is a bone marrow transplant at Duke University. His only Sister was not a match unfortunately BUT thanks to Be the Match, they found Dj a perfect match & they emailed me last week with this WONDERFUL news!! We feel so blessed & so THANKFUL for our “perfect match” (aka Miracle) for Dj. His life and testimony has already made such a impact on others and thanks to the willingness of others to be a donor, He can continue in time touching the Life of others through his personal testimony. The bone marrow transplant will happen soon! Just as soon as he is in remission we will head to Duke for the procedure and secound chance at life! Thank you for sharing your story Rachael & assurance that just like you, Dj’s young life will continue in years to come with God’s help and the act of others who are willing to give life to others! May God bless your life, your marriage, your job, and all He has planned for You!

  6. Lorrie L says:

    My husband Mike was diagnosed with AML Leukemia. Non of his sisters or brother were a match. Thanks to Be A Match a donor was found. After extensive chemo he had transplant 04/25/2013. So far so good….he is getting his life back. We cannot thank our donor enough and hope after a year we will be able to contact him and let him know what an angel he really is.

  7. Megan Miller says:

    This is the third time my lil sister has had cancer, her and I are a 10/10 match. She leaves for the hospital soon, as a matter of fact will be there through Christmas and the new year. I am so scared of the side effects she might experience, she is my everything, I taught her most of what she knows and at 26 years old, she deserves so much better out of life. Im on the registry as well, and considering how many stem cells I was able to give this time around, if anyone needs them, just ask and you shall receive if we are a match. They don’t call it a match made in heaven for no reason.

  8. James says:

    What an incredible story!

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