In 2010 I was asked to join a group of 46 other singers to perform a new song called "La Gota De La Vida" to benefit Be The Match & City of Hope. The campaign consisted of the song and music video “La Gota De La Vida,” a red carpet event and a live performance in 2011 at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, CA. It was similar to "We Are The World" , where famous Latino singers and celebrities like Gloria Estefan, Enrique Iglesias, Sofia Vergara and Placido Domingo participated to help bring awareness to Be The Match. The organization builds and maintains an International registry of potential bone marrow and stem cell donors. Adding names to this registry is important, because these donations are vital to help save the lives of those diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and many other diseases and finding a match is not easy.
As a performer advocating the cause, I was compelled to sign up and register myself as a donor. Doing so is extremely easy and only requires getting a swab of saliva. That's it! I felt huge support when my family quickly followed suit and also added their names to the registry. We joined the international community of 9 million members, 6.3 million of those are here in the United States.
I added my name to the registry with every intention of following through if I was ever matched. Still, knowing how rare that can be, I was shocked and humbled when I received the call a few years later.
In the of Summer of 2013, I was contacted as a potential match for a patient with Leukemia, but they required further testing to confirm. I was extremely excited that I could be able to help someone, but I was actually a little nervous too - I had read that surgery might be involved! I showed up with my now husband, Jonathan Miller, to the City Of Hope facility in Los Angeles, CA to learn more about the process what this news really meant. Jon took the opportunity to add himself to the registry too.
I was informed that matching someone is much more complicated than a simple blood type match. Although that is an important factor, Be The Match tests for Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) a protein found on the surface of most cells in your body. There are thousands of different possible combinations of HLA tissue types, making it difficult to find an exact match. A single match can require going through millions of records. At times a family member or sibling may be the best match, while often times a perfect match is found from a complete stranger! About 70% of patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family, which is why having a resource like Be The Match is so important. The best matches are usually found in people with a similar racial or ethnic background.
A few weeks passed, and I was notified that I indeed was the match for the patient in need! The patient, a 26 year old male in Europe with Leukemia, would first need to go through other treatments, and as a last resort, need me as a transplant donor. Occasionally, donors and recipients are allowed to have more details about each other, usually after a successful transplant. I only know his age and location, which is interesting, considering that I have ancestors from this same European country a few generations ago.
This whole experience has been a very moving one for Jon and myself. So much so, that he decided that he was going to support the Be The Match cause as a professional race car driver in the sports car world, by promoting it in all of his press releases, wearing the logo and sporting it on his racecar!
November of 2014, as Jon and I were coming back from our wedding, I began loading my email, and the first one I see is from Be The Match! My heart stopped and my stomach jumped. So many thoughts ran through my head. Had the time come for the transplant? How had the patient reacted in treatment? All I knew was, I needed to be there for him.
I was told the patient needs a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) transplant. PBSC is one of two methods of collecting blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. The same blood-forming cells that are found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating (peripheral) blood.
PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure, called apheresis. The donation takes place at an experienced blood center or outpatient hospital facility that participates in PBSC collections for Be The Match, in my case it will happen at City of Hope in California. Apheresis takes a few hours and involves my blood being drawn, passed through a machine that removes the leukocytes and then back into my body. I can regenerate more, healthy leukocytes but the ones that I donate don’t have a long shelf life. They are flown directly to Europe and transplanted to the recipient. The other method is a surgical procedure that involves harvesting my marrow from a bone in my hip. It’s more invasive and painful, but if that is what’s needed in the future, that’s what I’m prepared to do.
I don't know the patient’s name, or what city he lives in, but this December/January, through Peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSC)I will not only be sending someone my stem cells all the way to Europe, I will also be sending all the hope, strength and love I can offer.
I strongly urge you to sign up and join the Be The Match Registry. You may be that one out of nine millionth person to be the match and help save a life.
For more information go tohttp://www.bethematch.org/