Cider Mill Holds Bone Marrow Registry Drive for 4th Grader with Leukemia

Cider Mill School is going the extra mile to help a fourth grade student who has leukemia.

Not only does 9-year-old Anna Getner have the entire school community behind her in her fight against cancer, she hopefully will have even more support from the wider Wilton community (and beyond) who are invited to take part in a bone marrow registration drive at the school, on Saturday, Feb. 1, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the hopes of finding a match for her.

For Anna to beat this leukemia, she needs a bone marrow transplant. She’s currently in the hospital undergoing a second round of chemotherapy because, as her family told GOOD Morning Wilton, “This is the only thing to rid her of some very stubborn leukemia cells and get her ready for a bone marrow transplant.” [Read GMW.com‘s interview with Anna’s step-dad tomorrow.]

Timing is critical according to her family, and they really want to find a donor match quickly. The school was eager to do their part by sponsoring the drive with Be The Match Foundation, an organization run by the National Marrow Donor Program that works to register potential bone marrow donors on the national registry.

Marie Geyer, a Cider Mill counselor, said helping Anna was never a question. “She’s our child, she’s one of ours. Whatever we can do, whatever’s necessary.”

By doing a bone marrow registry drive, the hope is two-fold:  to find a potential match for Anna, and also to increase the number of people who register to become potential bone marrow donors. Doctors use the registry when patients need a bone marrow transplant and there is no matching donor in the patient’s family.

Geyer said the Cider Mill community is focused on doing what they can to help Anna.

“We’ve been concerned since she left school. She’s been home schooling and we’ve been monitoring and visiting. But we got a message that she took a turn for the worse and the remission ended quickly. So she needed additional medical support. We all just felt helpless, because there wasn’t anything we could do. I told her mom to let us know if there was anything, to let us know. She gave me the contact for BeTheMatch.org.”

Everyone at school, from the students to the administrators have been eager to pitch in and do what they can.

“We hope that many members of the town and our school communities will come out to support this important event we are hosting in honor of Anna. This is one of those rare moments where we have a precious opportunity to make a significant difference in someone’s life. We hope to make this a very special event for a truly special- and brave- young lady.  We welcome anyone who would like to join the Be the Match Registry, or donate funds to the cause,” Principal Jennifer Mitchell said in an emailed statement.

The Be The Match Foundation is cosponsoring the drive with Cider Mill.

While children can’t actually donate bone marrow, the school is making sure Anna’s fellow Cider Mill students are able to feel like they’re doing something to help. “We’re thinking about a fundraiser in February for donations to Be The Match, something that the kids can get involved with,” Geyer said. “It’s incredibly important that the kids have the opportunity to feel like they’ve done something. We are a community, this is a community event, and I hope it will grow.”

What’s involved in a Bone Marrow Donor Drive

Organizers are hoping that people will come to the drive on Feb. 1 to be listed in the Bone Marrow Transplant registry as potential donors. The focus for this drive is to test potential donors ages 18-44. (People between 45 and 60 years old can register only online.)

The process of being tested is very easy. Potential donors will give four swabs of cheek cells to be tissue-typed. There is no blood drawn during the drive. Trained medical professionals from Be The Match facilitate the process.

There are certain guidelines of which donors need to be aware:

  1. You must meet the health guidelines and be willing to donate to any patient in need.
  2. When you come to the donor registry drive, a trained expert will explain what it means to join the registry, help you understand your commitment, answer questions and help you through the process.
  3. You’ll need to complete some paperwork so make sure to bring along personal identification (driver’s license or passport) as well as contact information for two family members or friends who would know how to reach you in the future if your contact info changes.

“The cost to tissue type each potential new donor is $100; you are not required to pay in order to be tested at this drive as it’s being underwritten; however, we do accept whatever monetary contribution anyone wants to give,” Jair Thompson, the Be The Match coordinator, explained. Organizers are stressing that every contribution is important and gratefully accepted; each generous contribution is tax-deductible and helps make it possible for others to join the registry. (He also noted that anyone who registers online will have to pay the $100 fee to enter the registry that way.)

Thompson wants to make sure that people understand a couple things as well, about joining the registry. The first is that joining the registry means you sign up to be willing to donate bone marrow to anyone in need of transplant should you match them. Hopefully a match will be found for Anna through this, but others might be helped as well.

“The drive is in honor of Anna. Anyone who joins the registry through the drive is registered to help any patient in need,” Thompson stressed.

Also, swabbing at the drive is simply initial testing; additional testing would be needed if you are identified as a potential match for someone.

“Swabbing is preliminary testing, for certain DNA markers. If you’re matched on that level, you still have to go to a lab and at that point they draw four blood samples to see if you are a match on 10-of-10 markers. That’s considered a perfect match. Then you have to have a full physical, and actually agree to go through one of the two processes to collect the marrow,” Thompson said.

Depending on the patient who a donor matches, one of two bone marrow collection processes is used.

  • Harvesting marrow from the back of the hip:  used typically when the patient is a baby or a child; marrow is “more concentrated for the donation, sometimes grafts better for child patients and increases their chances of successful transplant.”
  • Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection (PBSC):  A synthetic hormone given by injection to the donor daily for 5 days; the hormone helps increase stem cells in the blood, and then blood is collected from the donor at a center or hospital. This is typically when the patient is an adult.

No appointment is necessary; interested registrants can stop by Cider Mill’s cafeteria anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Feb. 1. If anyone has questions or wants to get more involved, contact Marie Geyer at Cider Mill, 203.762.3351 ext. 4242.

GOOD Morning Wilton will have an interview with Anna’s family tomorrow.