Every year more than 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with a life threatening disease, like a blood cancer and their best and only hope of a cure may be a bone marrow transplant.
Since 1996 more than 225 bone marrow transplants have taken place at the Avera Transplant Institute.
We want you to meet a young man from Elk Point who will be that transplant list.
Justin Keegan isn't your average 22 year old. While most of his friends are starting their life in the real world, Justin's reality is fighting cancer. He was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or A.L.L. in November 2007. It's a nasty fast growing cancer of the blood.
Justin says, "At: first I didn't know what leukemia was. I've never even been sick. It was hard to wrap my brain around something I would have to fight that I had no control over."
After undergoing 8 rounds of chemo at the Avera Cancer Institute he went into remission, but the cancer came back in October of last year (2008). This time in his spinal fluid and he is back getting chemo and radiation.
Justin says, "It's hard to think about doing it all over again. I was in school at Southeast Technical Institute and I had moved on."
Hematologist Dr. Kelly McCaul is one of Justin's doctors. He specializes in bone marrow transplants which is rare for a hematologist. He says, "Once he relapsed, a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant was really the most effective way to try and cure him."
But before he can get the transplant, he has to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation to kill any of the diseased cells in the body so the new healthy cells can take hold.
Unfortunately, like 70% of patients who need bone marrow transplants, no one in Justin's family was a match. So his doctor's turned to the National Marrow Donor Program Registry and where they found a match. A complete stranger is volunteering to help save his life.
Dr. McCaul says, "It can be thought of as a last resort, but it can also be looked at as the best chance of survival."
Justin says, "We are only told their age and if they are a male or a female. Mine is a 22 year old female. The fact that is willing to help save my life and change my families life because I will still get to be in their lives is a really big deal."
Becoming a donor is actually easy. Go to the Avera Cancer Insitute and they will help direct you to the Transplant Institute. Pick up a packet, fill out some paperwork and swap your cheeks in 4 different areas for 10 seconds each. The whole process takes 10 minutes.
And if you're a match, the process of donating is just like giving blood. At Avera McKennan it's done through pheresis. A machine separates out the blood-forming cells used in the transplant and remaining blood goes back into your arm. It takes a little longer than a regular blood donation, but it's not painful.
Dr. Mccaul says, "The more people in the bank the better and hopefully providing more people with a life saving procedure."
Justin believes whole heartedly the stem cell transplant will save his life. And he knows he has a selfless giving woman out there to thank for it.
You could be that life saver for someone who has no one else to turn to. Learn more by calling 1-800-MARROW-2 OR VISIT www.marrow.org