You Can Be a Hero
Lovejoy High School Holds Bone Marrow Screening
On May 22, 2018, Lovejoy High School was the site of a bone marrow screening. Kyle Herrema, Lovejoy High School Assistant Athletic Director and event coordinator said, “I got involved after my friend David Whitson went through cancer several years ago. He only had a 5% chance of living and was saved because of the donation of a college student. My wife and I attended a bone marrow screening at Nebraska Furniture and thought why can’t we do it at the high school? I know younger people have a much greater success rate as donors and thought this would be a great place to hold a screening.”
Herrema explains what was involved in the screening, “Each screener watches a 2 1/2 minute video about bone marrow donation, completes a health history and personal registration, and then takes three swabs by mouth. The swabs are sent over to Germany to find the DNA results.”
Whitson was diagnosed with AML(Acute Myeloid Leukemia) in September of 2016. He underwent chemo twice, then he developed a very bad genetic mutation (FLT3) and his only hope was a bone marrow stem cell transplant. On December 21, 2016 he received that transplant from a donor who was a complete stranger to him. Allie Reimold, a student at Purdue University, had gone to a children’s hospital and signed up to be a donor with her sorority when she was a freshman.
Whitson was 44 years old when he received the donation; Reimold was 22 years old when she donated. They were a match because they came from the same genetic ancestry. Each day, for four days prior to the donation, Reimold received shots to enable her to produce bone marrow stem cells. A platelet machine was used to filter out the stem cells. Reimold said that the 7 and a half hour procedure was not easy, but it wasn’t difficult either. He said he would most likely not be alive if it weren’t for Reimold. He said, “You can save a life by just donating. That’s being a hero.”
Lovejoy High School junior, 17-year-old Austin Bennett started dealing with symptoms of leukemia in September 2017. He was diagnosed with Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). His father, Kyle Bennett, said, “Acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children is a malignant disease or cancer of the blood characterized by the rapid uncontrolled growth of abnormal, immature white blood cells known as lymphoblasts.” Austin has been treated with traditional drug chemotherapy, immunotherapy, full body irradiation therapy and the stem cell/bone marrow transplant.
His sister, Haley Bennett, is a 16-year-old sophomore at LHS. She was his stem cell/bone marrow donor. Kyle described the process to donate and receive the stem cell/bone marrow, “The donation process is the “hard” part. Haley had to undergo a surgical procedure that lasted about 1.5 hours. Her doctors made two tiny incisions on her lower back, below her waist. These were so small they did not even require stitches. Through those incisions, they used a needle and syringe and made close to 100 punctures into her hip bone. From those sites, the doctors extracted a little less than a liter/quart of bone marrow. After some testing on the marrow, the entire amount was then infused (basically an IV) into Austin through a mediport that had previously been implanted in his chest. Austin slept through most of the procedure.”
The transplant procedure was performed on March 26th. Kyle provides an update on the post-procedure results, “It takes about six months of transplant engraftment before the doctors will consider the transplant procedure a success. Currently, over 96% of Austin’s blood is “female,” which points to things going very well. However, transplant success does not equate to “curing” Austin’s leukemia. In fact the doctors will not ever refer to a “cure.” What they will say is that if the transplant engraftment is a success, then Austin will have a 66% to 75% chance of never having to be treated for leukemia again. It will be about another 2 years before doctors are willing to make a call on the procedure being overall successful.”
Regarding being the donor, Haley asked her dad, “Why is everyone making a big deal out of me doing this transplant?” Kyle said,” I explained to her that she had been raised to do “the right thing.” She never saw any other option but to try and help save her brother’s life. She never once considered the risk, pain, or recovery she would have to endure in order to accomplish the transplant. There never was any other option in her mind, and that is something that her mother and I are extremely proud of.”
Regarding the bone marrow screening at LHS, Kyle said, “People probably do not realize how incredibly important the screening process is. Many families will find that they do not have suitable donors inside their own families for a bone marrow transplant. Finding a suitable donor outside the family is extremely hard to do as well. The better that donor is in terms of DNA matching, the chances of a successful transplant go up significantly. The better the donor is in terms of matching also can greatly contribute to a lot less pain and suffering on the recipient’s end as well. The people that stepped up to be donors are truly the heroes in the process because their actions not only save a leukemia patient’s life, but also greatly improve the quality of life of the recipient while enduring the treatment process.”
Explaining Austin’s current health, Kyle said, “He is doing well. He was in the hospital for four days due to a small viral infection, but is now back at home. Everything is on track, but it is far from an easy road for him. The entire process is fraught with a good bit of hardship even when everything is going as it should.”
69 members of the community (students, faculty, staff and parents) registered as potential donors at LHS. Herrema explains how others can help this cause, “The biggest thing is for people to become registered to donate. Many people have heard about how painful marrow donation has been in the past but in a lot of cases these days, it is almost like giving blood. There are 14,000 people in the United States currently looking for donors and there is an incredible need for minority donors. Please go to www.dkms.org for more information on how you or a friend can become a lifesaving donor.” Requirements to be a donor include being in good health and between the ages of 18-55.