An unexpected bond

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Latral

Latral, blood stem cell recipient

Latral always knew helping others was her calling, which explains her 20 years of experience in the medical field. She is the head dialysis technician at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. In 2014, Latral and her husband, Norman, were soon to celebrate their second anniversary with a romantic getaway. Latral fell ill and knew something wasn’t right. Excruciating pain led to a canceled getaway and a trip to the emergency room instead. Latral thought she may have an ulcer, but it proved to be something much worse.

Latral was then diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She was determined to get this behind her, so she could go on with what she felt she was meant to do in this world, taking care of others. With further appointments, Latral learned her cancer had taken over 98% of her body, devouring her red blood cells.

“How long will I be here?” she asked the nurse from her hospital bed.

Without immediate chemotherapy, she had a 4-6 week prognosis. The nurse patted her head, as she was going to be there awhile. Latral longed to get back to her patients, taking their vitals, double checking their monitors, praying with them, and more.

Some days, she slept 16 hours. She was always in pain, from head to toe. Chemotherapy wiped out her entire immune system. After chemotherapy, Latral would need a blood stem cell transplant. At this point, her friends, family, community, and even strangers knew her story. It was no secret that she needed a blood stem cell donor, but it was also no secret the chance of finding one was low. Her siblings were not matches, and Latral knew what a stranger would have to go through to help her.

“Who had that kind of time?” she thought.

Latral turned to prayer. She prayed for herself, and her potential donor. Against all odds, a donor stepped up. This donor was a perfect match for Latral.

The chemotherapy wiped out her leukemia, but unfortunately, when she was ready to have her blood stem cell transplant, Latral’s leukemia returned. Nine months later, after her second round of chemotherapy, she was ready to receive her new blood stem cells, and her donor was also ready to donate.

The operation was a success.

“Who was this individual?” she thought, as she prayed for their healing as much as she prayed for her own.

Raykell

Nearly a decade ago, Raykell had a very close friend in need of serious help. Her young son needed a blood stem cell donor. Raykell joined the Be The Match Registry® in hopes of being his match, but unfortunately, she couldn’t help. The young boy passed away soon after. Fast forward to 2014 and Raykell found herself at church during a Be The Match Registry drive. Her pastor was encouraging people to join the registry and explaining the importance of people of color being blood stem cell donors. She didn’t stay long, as she knew she was already registered.

The Tuesday following that service, Raykell got the call from Be The Match. She was potentially a match for someone in need. While on the call, fear took over Raykell’s body. Her biggest concern was how much donating may hurt. While listening through the phone, Raykell was convinced she would say no. She was currently in a bad family situation, and fear was getting the best of her.

Raykell, blood stem cell transplant donor (third from left), with her transplant nurses

But then, something different happened. In that same moment, Raykell felt God speak to her, telling her he had prepared her for this. Suddenly, her faith took over, and all of her fear diminished. She said yes, and went through with what she now calls an “experience of a lifetime.”

Raykell’s initial testing was a long process. All she knew about the patient she was about to help is that she had leukemia. Going into her donation, Raykell was nervous about being awake and worried about being in pain. The nurses made the process easier than expected, and she overall had a good experience. She felt very tired afterwards, but returned to work two days later without difficulties. A lot of people told Raykell how proud they were of her for agreeing to go through with donating her blood stem cells. Many also shared they would not have been able to go through with it as she had.

Coming together

After the initial waiting period, Latral was allowed to collect her donor’s information. She learned her donor’s name and location, and was finally able to reach out to Raykell. In 2015 the two of them connected via phone, and from there, a friendship began. They became fast friends, talking on the phone daily, and looking forward to meeting for the first time.

“I had to ask her what made her make such a sacrifice for someone she did not even know.” said Latral.

“I did not know I would feel so grateful for going through this experience. The best part was hearing my recipients voice for the first time, saying ‘Thank you so much for giving me another chance at life.'” She shares how Latral’s family has thanked her and made her feel as if she has done something remarkable. She feels God prepared her all those years ago to help someone in need.

“It didn’t matter that I didn’t know who it was. God knew.” shared Raykell.

In 2018, Latral and Raykell were given the opportunity to meet for the first time at the Be The Match New York Soiree in front of a room full of Be The Match® supporters. The photos of the two of them embracing for the first time are more than words can describe, and something nobody who witnessed it will ever forget.

Now, an indescribable bond between two women has begun.

Latral (left), meeting her blood stem cell transplant donor, Raykell (right)

Latral (left), meeting her blood stem cell transplant donor, Raykell (right)

Raykell (left), blood stem cell transplant donor, with her recipient, Latral (right)

Hearst Foundations award $200,000 grant to support the Amy Program

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Hearst Foundations award $200,000 grant to support the Amy Program

Be The Match® is thrilled to be the recipient of a $200,000 grant from the Hearst Foundations, awarded to Be The Match Foundation® to support the Amy Strelzer Manasevit Research Program (Amy Program). This increased investment from Hearst Foundations comes at a critical time as Be The Match Foundation expands support for Amy Scholars from 3 years of funding to 5 years. The Hearst Foundations’ commitment to the development of early-career investigators studying post-transplant complications furthers the

Amy Strelzer Manasevit, blood stem cell recipient

research that leads to critical discoveries, helping more patients live longer, healthier lives.

“We are proud to be associated with the Amy Program,” said Hearst Foundations Executive Director, Paul “Dino” Dinovitz. “The Hearst Foundations share Be The Match’s commitment to eliminating health care disparities and ensuring access to high-quality care for low-income populations. Supporting the development of young medical investigators will help create a broad and enduring impact on the nation’s health.”

The Amy Program is the only U.S. clinical research program dedicated exclusively to discovering treatment and prevention strategies for post-transplant complications while developing the next generation of transplant physician-scientists. Amy Program researchers dedicate their careers to:

  • Finding solutions that make it possible for thousands of patients to avoid dangerous post-transplant complications
  • Improving treatments to help patients overcome complications like relapse, infection, and graft-versus-host disease

The Hearst Foundations’ grant will help these investigators establish their labs, build their portfolios, and publish the results that position them for tenure-track positions and future funding. This investment in research is key to raising the rate of “event-free” survival for our core patients by 25% over the next five years.

To learn more about how you can provide critical funding to help improve outcomes for patients in need of a life-saving blood stem cell transplant please contact Amy Conner at aconner@nmdp.org or (763) 406-8748 | Toll Free: (800) 507-5427 Ext 8748.

About the Hearst Foundations

The charitable goals of the Hearst Foundations reflect the philanthropic interests of William Randolph Hearst, with a focus on ensuring that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive, and inspiring lives. The William Randolph Hearst Foundation and The Hearst Foundation, Inc. are independentprivate philanthropies operating separately from the Hearst Corporation.

Ed Plass and his impact with Be The Match

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In December of 2011, at age 68, Ed underwent an unrelated cord blood transplant to treat acute myelogenous leukemia, a life-threatening blood cancer.  Transplant is a rigorous treatment that requires a lengthy hospital stay and months to years of recovery. As a survivor of this intensely difficult treatment, he has dedicated much of his life to helping others going through the same process.

Ed’s wife Kate was his primary caregiver and a huge part of his transplant and recovery. She has stood by his side throughout this journey, and has also dedicated much of her time to advocating for Be The Match® with Ed. “Our oldest grandchild was 6 years old and the youngest was just 9 months when I had my transplant,” says Ed. “I’ve been able watch them grow up and they’ve had the chance to know their grandfather as a person, not a picture.” Many of Ed’s experiences with transplant, recovery, and advocacy have been a family effort.

Ed is part of the Be The Match peer-to-peer counseling program for transplant patients, helps edit educational and support material, and was on the Leadership Council for several years, helping with legislative advocacy, donor recruitment and tabling events. He speaks to other patients who are anticipating transplant about his own experience and helps ease their fears, answer their questions and provide the kind of encouragement that only a transplant recipient can give. Kate has also spoken at these events from a caregiver perspective. He meets with social workers and other staff members to ensure that they know how best to support patients going through the same treatment that he did.

It is difficult to explain the impact that Ed makes on the patients who look to him for support, except to say that in this volunteer role he uses himself and his experience with transplant to connect with people who desperately need support.

Ed says his transplant has given him the gift of life and the gift of time. And he’s making the most of it. In addition to spending time with family, he is very active in his church and has volunteered more than 400 hours with Be The Match, connecting with patients, transplant centers and legislators. He and his wife have been very generous with financial gifts to Be The Match as well, as they understand that supporting patient assistance, recruitment and research is so important.  “After my transplant, I’m more aware of the issues which people [like me] can face, and I’m trying to give back,” Ed says.

We need more people to make an impact like Ed, and support patients like him. You could make an impact by signing up for a monthly gift. A reliable monthly gift will help more patients receive marrow transplants, expand the Be The Match Registry ®, and provide financial resources to patients and families in need Join us in our life-saving mission and give a monthly gift today.