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Published on June 21, 2018

Carolyn Thompson

Bone Marrow Donation – You Could Be the Match

A compassionate stranger from across the country saved Carolyn Thompson’s life. His miracle contribution started with an unassuming swab of his cheek.

The simple action was part of an ongoing and critical effort. The Be the Match Registry®, through the National Marrow Donor Program®, is for Thompson, not just what saved her life. It’s a new passion – one she hopes to widely share.

“A young man at a college thousands of miles away was my donor,” she said. “People who need bone marrow transplants often turn to their siblings or children. I needed him, and God sent me this donor who was the perfect match. That’s why I hope more people will take part in the program. Life can change very quickly.”

Thompson, who has served on the Avera Foundation, owns and operates an estate and business-planning legal services firm in Sioux Falls. In 2015, she was preparing for a huge event on April 10 at the Sioux Falls Arena, where more than 500 clients and family members would join her and hear her speak.

On April 9, at 7 p.m., her doctor called.

“He said this is going to rock your world, and he was right,” she said. “I had not been feeling well, but never expected the news he presented.”

Her physician explained that she faced acute myeloid leukemia. She would need immediate treatment. While the treatment offered no guarantee, without it she was looking at the fact that she had but another six to eight weeks to live.

On top of the huge event, she had all plans in place for a months-long sabbatical after 20 years of hard work in her business.

“I’d already planned a three-week vacation with my children, on an island and a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike we were hosting to raise money for a cancer support organization,” Thompson said. “Everything changed. It became what I call a radical sabbatical.”

She completed several rounds of chemotherapy to combat the cancer in her blood and bone marrow, but with each session, the likelihood of reaching remission and finding a match lessened. She fought a number of infections as well.

“God has a great and mighty purpose for me,” she said. “That was the mantra I clung to during this. I had three teenagers to survive for, and I kept thinking that God would find the right donor for me, at the right time. I get goose bumps just talking about it now.”

For many bone marrow transplants, a match between donor and recipient must line up to a degree. In Thompson’s case, she needed a “10 of 10” indicator match – and one was found. This near-miracle connection occurred because of Be The Match, and now she realizes, after so many miles of on a winding faith journey, that she must share her story and appeal to all people: please consider being a donor.

The donor registry is open to anyone between the ages of 18-44 who fits the health guidelines criteria.

“The process of testing, as well as donation, is much less invasive than it was in the past. It’s not as easy as donating blood, but it’s comparable on many levels,” she said. “The people, like me, who need donors, can never repay those who take this step and give of themselves to help people they may never meet.”

Thompson explained that while a person in need of donation will often turn to a sibling or child for donations, it doesn’t always offer a solution.

“In my case, my siblings and kids were only half-matches, with just five of 10 indicators matching. It’s called a haploidentical, or haplo match, and there can be success with that type of transplants,” she said. “Ideally anyone who has made it through the survival point to get a stem cell transplant wants the best chances at the best outcome, with a higher match.”

Thompson said she was thankful for her donor, a young man on a college compass that hoped someday he could make a difference.

“He answered the call to get tested and indeed for me, my family and friends, he made all the difference,” she said. “I hope everyone who reads this realizes the facts: you could do the same thing, and be part of the donor registry system. You could ‘Be the Match’ for someone.”

Throughout her treatment journey, Thompson met patients and families from across the world. She realized that many would not have the same blessing that she received.

“There is a distinct and vital need for more donors from every race, and I met a young woman from Pakistan whose mother was preparing for death because no match could be found,” she said. “The donor pools for many groups are too shallow to allow for even a glimmer of hope. Be The Match programs – and people of all races who will step forward to help – can change that, one cheek swab at a time.”

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