Bone marrow donors sought in battle to save man's life
By Sara Hottman - January 28, 2010
PEMBROKE - Doug Oxendine has been suffering from leukemia for just more than two years, and now he needs a bone marrow donor to save his life. But as an American Indian, his chances of finding one are low - one in 100.
Beginning Friday, the Icla da Silva Foundation is hosting three public donor drives and one family drive in Pembroke not only to try and find a bone marrow match for Oxendine, 38, a Florida man whose father is from Pembroke, but also to expand the number of American Indians in the national registry for bone marrow donors.
The Icla da Silva Foundation is a national organization that recruits bone marrow donors for Be the Match, a national bone marrow registry, and offers support services to people with blood cancers, with a focus on recruiting and helping minorities.
The best bone marrow match is from a person who is the same race or ethnicity as the patient, but minorities are vastly underrepresented in bone marrow registries.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people registered for bone marrow donations grew from zero in 1988 to more than 7 million two decades later; 70 percent of the registry is white and 28 percent is minority - black, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic.
As of September 2008, about 1 percent of the registry, 70,000 people, was American Indian - the lowest minority representation besides Pacific Islander, with 0.1 percent. About 7 percent of the registry is Asian, 8 percent is black and 9 percent is Hispanic.
There are three potential matches for Oxendine in the national registry, but the matches are not perfect. A match is hard to find; cells must be nearly identical genetically to be successful, and a 100 percent match carries just a 70 percent success rate for the transplant, and the odds decrease from there.
Oxendine's father had 16 brothers and sisters, and so 102 first cousins are potential matches, Oxendine said. Saturday evening, after the bone marrow drive at Mt. Olive Pentecostal Holiness Church in Pembroke, where many of Oxendine's cousins attend, the Oxendine family will reunite at Willard's Chapel so family members can be entered into the registry.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia became part of Oxendine's vernacular in October 2007. He was part of a medically supervised weight-loss program that included weekly blood tests to ensure participants' organs were working properly. During one visit, the doctor noted Oxendine's high white blood cell count and recommended a visit to a hematologist.
"The doctor came into the room and said, 'I'm going to tell you something and you're going to sit with a blank stare on your face, and in about five minutes I'll wake you up,'" Oxendine said. The doctor told him he had a rare cancer of the blood cells that occurs when a chromosome mutates, eventually leading to the production of too many diseased white blood cells.
"Sure enough, my mind went blank with all the questions I had - why me, what does this mean ... ?" Oxendine said.
Blood cells originate in the bone marrow, a spongy material inside the bones that produces blood stem cells. In people with myelogenous leukemia, the bone marrow produces too many white blood cells that eventually crowd out healthy cells.
Crowded cells cause bone and joint pain as the bone expands, and excess blood cells stored in the spleen cause it to swell, sometimes to the point of bursting, according to the National Cancer Institute. Oxendine's leukemia was caught early, so he didn't suffer traditional symptoms or complications.
According to the National Cancer Institute, chronic myelogenous leukemia primarily affects adult males; about 4,800 are diagnosed annually.
Oxendine started taking a medication that blocks bad white blood cell production but leaves healthy cells alone. By July 2009, Oxendine had gone through all three stages of remission and was considered healthy with the medication.
But in November, a routine check-up showed that 77 percent of the blood cells in Oxendine's morrow were cancerous. His body had grown resistant to the medication and the leukemia had come back in an accelerated phase.
Now Oxendine is taking another receptor-blocking medication daily that his doctors hope will put him through three stages of remission - he's into the second stage now - so his body will be ready for a bone marrow transplant once it goes into full remission.
A bone marrow transplant is the only definitive cure for chronic myelogenous leukemia. During a transplant, healthy stem cells are infused into the bloodstream after chemotherapy drugs kill the patient's original cells. The new cells multiply so only healthy cells remain.
A bone marrow donation occurs under general anesthesia, according to the Mayo Clinic. A small amount of stem cells are taken from the donor, and the donor's body replaces them within two or three weeks; complications are rare.
Oxendine is looking at the end of March or beginning of April for a transplant. Until then, he will continue to spend $7,500 monthly on the medications that will hopefully take him into full remission before his body becomes resistant to it.
Meanwhile, Oxendine is spending time with his wife Nancy, his 10-year-old daughter Lauren, and his 8-year-old son Dalton.
"This brought my family closer together; we're sharing a lot more quality family time together," Oxendine said. "My secondary family is the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society."
Part of the support organization is Team in Training, with which Oxendine has gone on hikes, bike rides and triathlons with his Orlando, Fla., chapter, as well as volunteer and speaking at events for the society.
Oxendine has worked with the Icla da Silva Foundation, associated with the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society, on five donor drives in Orlando since summertime, and over the past three weeks has organized the Pembroke drives.
"I would encourage everyone to come out, because if you don't save my life, you could save someone else's life in the future," he said.
People who want to register with Be the Match can do so 1 to 6 p.m. Friday at Walmart in Pembroke; 11 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Olive Pentacostal Holiness Church in Pembroke; 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Mt. Olive Pentacostal Holiness Church in Pembroke.
Icla da Silva Foundation: http://www.icla.org
Team in Training: http://www.teamintraining.org