When Dee Dee Dixon Rund was diagnosed with leukemia, her friends and colleagues drew on their business expertise to help save her life.
“I am a businesswoman, and I work with business owners, and I know that the way to accomplish something is to set a goal, and set a deadline, and have a defined target,” said Darcie Harris, president of EWF International, an advisory, coaching and consulting group for professional women. “So that’s how we decided to try to change the odds, and not just hope for the best.”
Rund, president of Oklahoma City Abstract & Title Co., was diagnosed in January with an aggressive form of leukemia. She will need several blood transfusions in addition to a bone marrow transplant, an often-feared procedure even she didn’t understand before her diagnosis. She has had two bone marrow biopsies.
“They’ve been painless and easy to move through,” Rund said. Harris, whom Rund describes as her friend and mentor, called on fellow EWF members to organize a drive. The group hopes to test 2,000 people by April 1, and already has organized 10 testing events, everywhere from churches to an Oklahoma City Thunder game. The first event, held Feb. 13 at OKC Abstract, was attended by 195 people.
The group relies on social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word, and Harris said they couldn’t have managed without them. Just weeks after the creation of the Facebook page, it already had more than 700 fans. The response has overwhelmed all involved, especially Rund.
“It took me by surprise that so many people I know and so many people that I don’t know will take the time to help somebody else, and that they’re also making an effort that could, in turn, help other people as well,” Rund said. “They may not be my match, but there are people out there they will match.”
Potential donors are tested using a cheek swab. The registration process takes between 10 and 15 minutes, and donors must be between 18 and 60 years old, and in good health. The samples taken at the drives for Rund are added to the national registry.
“Not only are we helping change the odds for Dee Dee, we will help change the odds for every single person who needs a marrow transplant,” Harris said.
There’s a lot of misconception surrounding the bone marrow testing and transplant process, said Audrey Womack, marrow donor coordinator with the Oklahoma Blood Institute and for Be the Match, a national marrow donor registry. While many people think it involves a painful hip injection, the process is usually closer to that of a platelet donation, she said. The most common method involves using stem cells found in the bloodstream.
“That’s what’s used two-thirds of the time,” Womack said. “If someone’s ever given blood, it’s going to feel like that. It’s just going to take a lot longer, maybe several hours.”
Testing drives like the one for Rund give all patients a better chance of finding a match, especially those from minority groups, Womack said.
“Caucasians, as a whole, have an about an 80 percent chance of finding a match, but as you get into the minority races, the percentages drop dramatically, down to like 9 percent, 10 percent, very low,” she said.
But with many of the participants at the drives for Rund classifying themselves as at least part “North American Indian,” Womack hopes the odds will increase for these groups.
The bone marrow program always needs more funding, she said, and contributions can be made at the Oklahoma Blood Institute’s Web site, http://www.obi.org. Donors can specify that the donation go to the marrow program, and that it be in honor of Rund. A major part of the drive is helping raise awareness about blood marrow donation and transplant, and both Harris and Rund hope to dispel many of the processes’ misconceptions.
“Hopefully, there will be a phase two we can help with, as far as helping people understand the reality versus the myth,” Rund said.
They also hope to help people understand the need to build up the national registry.
“We all hear about people who need some type of a blood transfusion or a bone marrow transplant or a stem cell transplant, and it’s not until it strikes this close to home that we realize how urgent that need is,” Harris said. “I’m sorry that it took that to make it so much more personal.”
Photo Audrey Womack, Oklahoma Blood Institute; Annette Willoughby, Oklahoma City Title & Abstract; and Darcie Harris, EWF International, look at the swab used to test potential bone marrow donors. photo/Shannon Cornman