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Crosby tries to meet his match

By Derek Radke
On October 20, 2011

Last semester Norwich University ranked second in total number of donors out of 86 colleges in the United States for hosting blood and bone marrow drives, with the hope of finding a bone-marrow match for a member of the NU family, Charlie Crosby, according Nicole DiDomenico, director of Norwich's center for civic engagement and campus climate.

"We had 574 (donors)," said DiDomenico.

"I was impressed, I had an awful lot of my classmates that came," said Charlie Crosby, associate sports information director. "The turn-out was excellent."

According to DiDomenico, donors were classified as the people who got swabbed and were eligible for donating if a match was found. "We were only second to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which has a much larger population," she said.

"I believe that the turnout we had was a demonstration of our community's ability to really rally behind any one of our members and support them, by not only words, but by action," she said.

"Leukemia is a disease of the blood," said Crosby. "(With) leukemia there's no tumor, there's nothing to be operated on." He said that with leukemia he has tumors in his blood cells, which deplete the good cells.

Crosby, a 1963 graduate of Norwich, has been receiving treatment for 10 years for leukemia at the Dartmouth Medical Center in Dartmouth, Mass.

A bone marrow donation means donating "blood stem cells," which are the cells that create blood, according to Kelly Taylor, a donor recruit coordinator for Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei, the German marrow donor program.

"DKMS is a bone marrow donor center, and so we essentially do two things," said Taylor. "First we help to register new donors, and if a match is found, we contact that person and walk them through what happens next."

DKMS was founded in 1991 in Germany, and at the time there were only about 3,000 people on the registry in Germany, according to Taylor. Since then they have "grown to be the largest donor center in the world, (with) 2.9 million donors registered," she said.

DKMS provides the supplies for the drive and tests the swabs, said DiDomenico. From there, the donors still eligible to donate get entered into the database.

If a match is found, DKMS will contact that person about what can happen next regarding the actual donation process, said Taylor.

"If we could find a match for anybody," said Crosby, "the purpose would be served."

He said that he would like to find a match for himself, but would be happy finding a match for anyone.

The likelihood of finding a donor ranges from 66 percent to 93 percent. This percent depends on the patient's race or ethnicity. As a Caucasian, Crosby has a 93 percent likelihood of having a match on the registry, according to the media fact sheet provided by DiDomenico.

"Well, there are over 6 million people in the database and I don't match any of them," said Crosby. "My mother, when I was a child, used to tell me I was one of a kind, I guess I am."

According to Taylor, there was a match found at the end of last spring; however, it matched someone else on the registry. The student did go on to donate.

For patients who search for donors outside of their family, "Only four in 10 patients receive the lifesaving transplant that they need," Taylor said.

"When looking for a bone marrow match, blood type does not matter," said Crosby. "What has to matter is the DNA has to be similar in certain aspects."

This is also referred to as a person's Human Leukocyte Antigen tissue type, said Taylor.

According to a DKMS brochure provided by DiDomenico, a donor and patient must have at least eight tissue characteristics in common.

The brochure also says that there are more than 3,600 known characteristics that can occur in millions of combinations.

"At the end of the day, the more donors that we do add to the registry, the more potential matches we can find for patients," Taylor said.

Getting swabbed at a bone marrow drive doesn't hurt, according to Crosby. "A swab of the mouth is all it is," he said.

"The process was very quick, people were in and out within 10 to 15 minutes," said DiDomenico. "It was really just a matter of reading materials to find out if they were eligible, and then completing a one-page registration form. The actual swabbing of their cheeks takes 30 seconds."

DiDomenico said that there will be bone marrow drives every time there is a blood drive. The next drives are on Oct. 20 and Feb. 16.

There are two ways to extract the stem cells from the blood of donors, according to the DKMS brochure.

"What happens more often these days is what's called the peripheral blood stem cell donation, which is a lot like donating platelets or plasma," Taylor said.

This is where the blood is taken from one arm, fed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells and the remaining blood is then returned to the donor through the other arm, according to the DKMS brochure.

"The second method that happens less frequently is a marrow extraction," Taylor said.

In this method the donor receives general anesthesia and the marrow cells are collected from the backside of the pelvic bone, according to the DKMS brochure.

Crosby said that being around young people is a big help because of the many different outlooks on life that they provide.

"If you give up mentally it will get you," said Crosby. "I'm not going to dwell on it, I'm not going to feel sorry for myself, I'm going to enjoy my life, and whatever I have left of it I'm going to enjoy it."

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