A small sacrifice for another's chance at life
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
ODESSA -- Tony Hyder is walking normally again.
The mild-mannered businessman and father of two admits he's a little sore. But the discomfort, as he sees it, is a minor inconvenience for giving someone -- a stranger -- a new lease on life.
On June 7, Hyder, 38, let doctors insert long needles into his upper buttocks so they could remove 1,200 CCs -- just over a liter -- of bone marrow for transplant. Two purplish needle marks and bruising are the only physical evidence of the two-hour operation.
Because of strict rules limiting contact between donors and recipients, all Hyder knows is that a 51-year-old woman with early stage leukemia from "up North somewhere" received his stem cells in hopes of rejuvenating her immune system.
"Is it well worth it?" asked Hyder, long recovered from the initial pain that made it hard to get out of bed.
"The first couple of days were pretty rough," he said. But, "Yeah. It's a small price to pay."
Around the world, tens of thousands of people suffering from broken-down immune systems can potentially benefit from stem cell transplants. The cells -- taken from the bone marrow, blood or umbilical cord tissue of healthy people -- are injected into patients who prepare for the transplants by undergoing chemotherapy, radiation treatments, or both to kill off their bad cells.
Millions of people have volunteered to donate but the greatest challenge is finding suitable matches, said Helen Ng, spokeswoman for the National Marrow Donor Program, which runs the world's largest donor network with 4.5-million volunteers.
Thanks to DNA technology, the percentage of matches is much higher today than when the program began 15 years ago, she said. Researchers are able to more closely scrutinize the six protein antigens -- three inherited from the mother, three from the father -- that determine whether someone is a suitable donor.
For a person with no chance of living without a transplant, the success rate among different races ranges between 40 and 60 percent, she said. The percentage of matches is much higher today, from 58 percent for African-Americans to 88 percent for Caucasians.
More than 14,200 transplants have been arranged since 1987. Still, Ng said, one of the biggest obstacles remains convincing people the pain is not bad. While soreness and bruising is normal, the symptoms are short-lived.
"It's one of the most common misconceptions," she said.
Stem cells taken directly from the bone account for 75 percent of all transplants. Hyder, who added his name to the registry in 1995, is one of those cases.
Like all volunteers, he received a sudden call telling him about a match. That was three months ago. Some people drop out, so organizers anxiously waited to find out whether he still was interested.
The consequences are enormous. Once a donor consents, the patient's life is in their hands because timing is crucial. The healthy cells must be injected into the patient within 72 hours of removal, Ng said.
Hyder, who learned about the registry while giving blood, didn't waver. After tests at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center showed he was in good health, he was ready to go.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago he drove to Moffitt. While Hyder was under general anesthesia, his doctors took dozens of withdrawals from his hip bone, the richest source of marrow. He spent the rest of the day recovering and was home that evening.
Hyder, whose business partner, Wayne Williams, also is a registry member, is typically reserved about the experience. Donors can write their recipient the day of his operation. He declined.
Hyder said he may try to reach her once the yearlong information blackout expires.
"What do you really say?" he said. "My biggest thing is I hope it makes a difference in a person's life. Hoping it will get some people thinking about getting on the registry."
-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314.
Those interested in donating stem cells through bone marrow or other methods can call Florida Blood Services at 1-800-68-BLOOD or try the web site at www.fbsblood.org. Another source is the National Marrow Donor Program, which runs the world's largest donor registry, at 1-800-627-7692 or www.marrow.org
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