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Library makes finding stem cell matches easy


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Library makes finding stem cell matches easy

By Amanda J. Mantone/ Daily News Staff

Tuesday, August 8, 2006 - Updated: 12:15 AM EST

WALPOLE -- A Johnson Middle School teacher is hoping to find her perfect match this week -- a stem cell match, that is.

Elizabeth Bogardus, who teaches sixth grade at Johnson Middle School, has Hodgkin’s disease, a highly curable cancer that affects the immune system.

She’s looking for potential donors whose gift of stem cells -- which are found in bone marrow and help fight foreign growths in the body -- could help push her disease into remission.

A simple mouth swab at a screening in the town library tonight could identify if a person is a match for her and can thus donate cells.

"There’s some paperwork to fill out, and there’s a cheek swab. People will actually be swabbing their own cheek. It’s very simple," Bogardus said yesterday.

The donor drive, hosted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Boston and the National Marrow Donor Program, starts at 4 p.m. in the Walpole Public Library on Common Street, and will last until 7:30 p.m. It’s open to anyone older than 18 and younger than 60.

All volunteers who swab their cheeks will have their blood profile entered into an international stem cell donor registry, so their tissue can be matched with other patients in need of bone marrow or stem cell transplants around the world -- even if they don’t prove a match for Bogardus.

"Most of the people coming Tuesday are coming because of me, but they should realize they will automatically be put onto the registry," said Bogardus. "It could be somebody in Ireland, it could be anything. Stem cells are flown wherever they need to go. It’s the patient’s insurance that pays for everything."

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which funds research of blood cancers, stem cell transplants -- coupled with extremely intense chemotherapy or radiotherapy -- offer treatment for cancers that do not respond well to standard chemotherapy.

Most patients, including Bogardus, first undergo "autologous" transplantation, which uses their own bone marrow as a source of stem cells. If that step fails, as it did for Bogardus, siblings become the next best source for stem cells because they share the same tissue type.

"Last summer, I had a stem cell transplant, when they took my own stem cells. We obviously thought that worked, because nothing changed for six months," said Bogardus. "Now again, there’s these little spots (on the CAT-scan). I had a scan of my lung, and there was one. The only person they bother to check in the family is siblings, and they checked my sister."

While not a transplant match, Bogardus’ sister Kathleen Averill, of Walpole, organized the stem cell drive tonight which Bogardus hopes will find a match for her recovery.

Donors will be asked a few brief questions about their health, recent travel, and disease history. Anyone who matches Bogardus’ profile -- and who agrees to donate stem cells -- will take medicine to stimulate blood production in their bone marrow. Then, the stem cells are harvested intravenously, and Bogardus -- after undergoing heavy chemotherapy to rid her body of most of the cancer -- will receive the transplant so the stem cells can attack any remaining growths.

"The only side effect (of harvesting) is that your bones ache," she said. "While your bones are making more blood, there’s no room in the bone for stem cells to hang around, so they go into the blood stream. It goes to a machine, which filters out the stem cells and they put your blood back into your other arm. That’s all that any donor will have to go through."

Bogardus said potential donors can check whether their health insurance will pay the $52 swabbing fee by asking if the plan covers "HLA," or Human Leukocyte Antigen, matching. Some local businesses have also offered to cover the cost for ineligible volunteers, Bogardus said.

"Their insurance will be billed," she said. "If it rejects it, Dana-Farber will work with the person to lower the cost with whatever we’ve raised. But most people’s insurance will cover it. And most people are saying they’d just as soon pay the $52."

Amanda J. Mantone can be reached at 781-433-8354 or amantone@cnc.com.

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