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Albany man seeks donor for life-giving, marrow-cell transplant

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Anna Marie Lux
March 31, 2014

ALBANY—Jeffrey Nafzger needs the critical help of one caring human being.

Since the 32-year-old Albany man became ill with aplastic anemia, his body does not produce enough new blood cells. As a result, he tires easily, sleeps a lot and has low immunity.

Jeffrey needs a marrow-cell transplant. But to get the important procedure, he first has to find a matching donor.

“We need someone's help to save our son,” his mom, Joanne, said.

On Friday, a registration drive will be held at Albany Elementary School. People who attend will have cell samples taken from their cheeks with cotton swabs in a process that takes about 10 minutes.

Jeffrey is among 12,000 patients annually in the United States who need life-saving marrow- or blood-cell transplants to cure leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases.

Even if people who sign up for the worldwide registry are not matches for Jeffrey, they might be matches for other patients.

Patients find matches in their own family only 30 percent of the time, said Taylor Campbell of the National Marrow Donor Program, Rockford, Ill. The rest of the time, doctors turn to the “Be the Match Registry” to see if someone on the list is a compatible match for a patient.

The goal of the registry is to help every patient get treatment. The more people on the registry, the more lives it can save.

“We hold as many registration events as we can to add more people to the registry,” Campbell said.

In the last year, the Rockford center has held about 20 events in honor of patients like Jeffrey.

The National Marrow Donor Program has centers across the United States. It started a registry of unrelated marrow-cell donors in 1987. More than 10.5 million potential donors worldwide are on the registry.

When a match is found, marrow cells can be removed from the donor in two ways.

“Most often, marrow cells are donated from your arm in a procedure similar to donating plasma or platelets,” Campbell said.

The process can take from four to six hours.

“If it is going to take more than four hours, the process will be spread over two days for the donor,” Campbell said. “Even though we are working to help the patient, donor safety is our highest priority. Donors undergo complete medical evaluations to ensure that there is nothing that can put them at risk.”

About 25 percent of the time, marrow cells are removed in a surgical procedure, which the donor undergoes as an outpatient.

The most common side effect from donating marrow is a sense of well-being and pride in knowing that you helped save someone's life, Campbell said.

Only 50 percent of those who need transplants find matches.

The rest continue treatment as their doctors prescribe, but some die before a match can be found.

“We always tell people that you never know if you will be the person who saves someone's life,” Campbell said. “The only way you will know is by joining the registry and staying committed and available to help.”

Jeffrey, who has Down syndrome, has been active in Special Olympics since age 8. His favorite sport is bowling. Before he got sick, he bowled with the Green County Special Olympics. Jeffrey also is a big Packer fan, who loves to watch games with his dad, Jim.

For 15 years, Jeffrey has worked at Greenco Industries, Monroe. He graduated in 2000 from Albany High School.

“My son loves to be with people,” Joanne said. “He is outgoing. He likes to talk. He loves to hug. We're very proud of him.”

The family found out in September 2012 that Jeffrey has aplastic anemia.

“We just want our son back,” Joanne said. “I know the Lord is looking out for us, but we need help. We hope people find it in their hearts to do the right thing and to help someone else.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com



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