Super Star Advocate: Becky Tombleson

Posted February 20th, 2018 by Be The Match and filed in Volunteer Stories
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“Advocacy and policy is daunting, but not impossible and I’m buoyed by the sense that I can make a lasting impact in laws and policies that effect patients and their access to care.”

Becky, legislative advocate

Becky Tombleson is a clinical pharmacist with over eight years of experience at Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida and has worked in the Blood and Marrow Transplantation program for most of those. Becky got involved with the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP)/Be The Match® because, “as the years go by, one thing remains critical to my patients and their outcomes: access to care. That care takes on many shapes as a prescription that gets denied or a transplant that gets delayed. I have become passionate about access to care watching our patients struggle with financial burdens that complicate their lives and inhibit their outcomes. Our patients are fortunate to have vocal advocates and allies in NMDP and Be The Match.”

Last year Becky traveled with the American Society of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (ASBMT) and the NMDP in an effort to garner support from our lawmakers in Washington for the Protect Access to Cellular Transplant (PACT) Act, HR 4215. When asked about her experience and advice for new advocates, she said, “at first, I was very intimidated! I like to follow policy in Washington closely and as much as I tried to calm myself down, our lawmakers still seem like celebrities to me. Once I was able to visit with a few, I realized I was able to play an important role in their education and how much of an impact that makes on our patients. Our lawmakers are very educated in a number of ways but lack the insight I have as a clinical pharmacist – I found them grateful to learn of the impact access to care has on our patient’s lives.”

Becky is passionate about policy change because, “as time has progressed, I see advocacy and policy as a way to reach out beyond my institution, to patients I will never meet, and hopefully make the process an easier one for them. There are so many ways to impact patient care and I think my focuses have just gone a bit broader than before.”

Many people have never met a lawmaker before, but don’t worry because Becky has great advice. “Think through what you want to say and what is likely to leave a lawmaker with the clearest sense of what you do, what the patient need is, and how the legislation you’re discussing can make that a reality. Our lawmakers care about the interests of their constituents and want ultimately, something that will be beneficial to their lives. Our lawmakers are also involved in many different initiatives and bone marrow transplant is a complicated issue that many people don’t understand that lack experience with it. Also, try to stay calm if you’re easily dazzled by some lawmakers like I was!”

Becky also took the time to get others involved. “I was very fortunate to collaborate at Moffitt Cancer Center with our Federal Legislative Affairs Director. We were able to discuss in detail the PACT Act and how it could not only benefit our patients, but others as well. We both agreed that our institution sets a high standard in caring for patients that depend on access to transplant and that should be communicated to our lawmakers. We were thrilled to see the support we had and the impact that has had on the PACT Act. As one of the most nationally renowned cancer centers in America, we knew a letter of support or call could make all the difference.” And it did. Within a week Becky and her efforts added two co-sponsors!

You too can be a super star like Becky! If you want more information on how you can be a volunteer leader and super advocate, email Jess Knutson.

You can help ensure older patients get the transplant they need

Posted April 18th, 2017 by Be The Match and filed in News
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The number of older patients receiving a marrow transplant has increased significantly in recent years. But due to Medicare payment policies, transplant centers are losing thousands of dollars on each Medicare beneficiary they treat making it difficult for them to continue performing transplants for these patients.

Ed, marrow transplant recipient

In 2015, 138 hospitals around the country provided this life-saving therapy to nearly 1,200 Medicare beneficiaries. Patients like Ed, who received his transplant when he was 68 years old.

“Our oldest grandchild was 6 years old and the youngest was just 9 months when I had my transplant,” commented 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.”

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 over 400 hours with Be The Match: connecting with patients, transplant centers and legislators.

“After my transplant, I’m more aware of the issues which people [like me] can face, and I’m trying to give back,” said Ed.

Medicare patients need your help
We need your help to ensure patients who are Medicare beneficiaries have the same access to transplant as those who have commercial insurance.

What Medicare reimburses hospital transplant centers does not cover the costs of searching for a donor and obtaining their cells. If CMS does not reform the current payment policy for transplant hospitals will not be able to keep treating Medicare patients, like Ed.

This spring, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will determine the Medicare payment policy for inpatient transplants for the coming year.

Please submit a comment letter to CMS urging them to adequately reimburse for marrow transplant so patients can get the care they need. You can customize our pre-written letter and send it directly to the decision-makers at CMS.

We need comments from passionate people like you to help CMS understand how important this is. Thank you for your support!

Interested in legislation and policy changes that affects transplant patients? Learn more at

Why I do what I do for Be The Match

Posted September 27th, 2016 by Be The Match and filed in Donor Stories, News
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As told by Jeff, donor and advocate

“Save this girl’s life and I’ll be an advocate to the cause for the rest of mine.” This was the short prayer whispered just before I was anesthetized to harvest my bone marrow that was perfectly matched to a sixteen-year-old girl fighting leukemia. Eight years later, I’m please to share that my recipient, Kim is living life to the fullest with my adopted immune system. 100% engrafted and cancer-free!

Within a few days of the procedure life returned to normal, but my appreciation for it was different. Somewhere out there was a young lady fighting for her life and I knew that her family was asking themselves the same questions that I was. Were my cells good enough? What would happen if they weren’t? At the very least I knew that the procedure would give this family something that they had longed for, which has been confirmed by countless other families fighting a blood cancer. For many a bone marrow transplant can be a cure, but for all it provides hope.

To me, a bone marrow transplant is the perfect fusion of fate, science and miracle. Fate, to know that a compatible stranger chose to join a bone marrow registry; science, to facilitate the process; and miracle, to know that these life generating transplanted cells can alter the course of another person’s mortality. Believing this – I had to get involved further.

I started my advocacy at marrow drives, lending a hand to dismiss the fears about the donation process. As we all benefit from talking to others with firsthand experience; attending these drives helped educate and answer questions of those interested but concerned about the procedure. Several people join the registry, as I did, for someone they know who is in need of a transplant. At these drives, I help folks see the “Pay It Forward” concept. Although you may not be a match for the person you know, you could be for someone else in need, just as another person joining at another drive somewhere out there may be a match for your acquaintance.

I am involved with the CIBMTR (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research) which is the research program of Be The Match. As a consumer advocate, I’ve participated over the last five years helping to translate information, such as outcomes from a clinical trial into a readable format for the typical lay person to understand. It was an honor to be asked this past year to co-chair this advocacy group.

I’m also very proud of the money raised by co-chairing a local Be The Match Walk+Run event for the past three years. These events bring together survivors, caregivers, patients and donors to celebrate victories, honor those lost and help recruit new potential donors to the registry.

Finally, I take the most pride in my volunteering efforts as a stem cell courier. The transplant process is a logistical orchestra of physicians, scientists, lab techs, collection center personnel and transplant hospital staff all coming together for a patient in need. It is a privilege to hand-carry these coolers containing someone’s “second chance” from their altruistic donor to their intended recipient. A trained volunteer courier is as close as it gets to being Santa Claus.

If you read this chances are you’re already somehow involved with the cause. Mine are but a few of the many ways to help and I encourage all to engage. Maybe it’s writing to congressional members in support of NMDP/Be The Match’s legislative activities; or it’s reaching out to a local recruiter and helping in your community. Whether you’re a caregiver, a long term survivor or a fellow donor – we all have unique experiences that are vital to the next patient in need. As for me, I’ll keep holding up my end of that prayer.

Meet An Advocate: Jeff Haertling, St. Charles, MO

Posted December 17th, 2013 by Be The Match and filed in Donor Stories, News
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Jeff and Kim photoJeff Haertling had a certain person in mind when he joined the Be The Match Registry® in the fall of 2007. The daughter of a friend had been diagnosed with leukemia. Jeff hoped to be the matching donor who could save the girl’s life. But in the end, no match could be found for his friend’s daughter, and she passed away in 2008.

In 2009, Jeff got another chance to save someone’s life—this time, a stranger’s. It started with an unexpected call from the registry: Jeff was a perfect match for a 16-year-old girl battling acute lymphocytic leukemia. She desperately needed his marrow.

Jeff didn’t hesitate. He donated his marrow on Oct. 20, 2009 to save Kim Christensen’s life. On her 18th birthday, Jeff finally got to meet his “mini me” and Kim finally got to meet her “parts department.”

“Aside from having kids, this has been the most important and rewarding thing I’ve done in life,” Jeff said.

He’s since become a passionate advocate for Be The Match®, contributing to nearly every aspect of the organization. He is a volunteer Be The Match courier, helping to safely transport potentially life-saving cells from the donor’s location to the recipient’s location. He is also co-chair of the St. Louis Be The Match Walk+Run, and a member of the Consumer Advocacy Committee for CIBMTR® (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research®), a research program of Be The Match. Additionally, Jeff regularly hosts donor registry drives in the St. Louis area.

Last July, Jeff traveled to Capitol Hill with Kim and Be The Match representatives and advocates. There, they met with federal legislators and urged them to continue vital congressional funding for the organization.

“Being able to save someone else’s life has dramatically changed my life as well,” Jeff said. “Today, my goal is to spread the word about Be The Match, so more people can beat blood cancer and thrive like Kim.”