But only one in three patients is able to find a donor in their family. The rest must rely on an unrelated donor and only half of those will find a perfect match. Now, a new alternative could change everything.
For Izzy and Cyd art reflects life and Cyd's paintings connect the couple. Their journey took a scary turn when Izzy was diagnosed with AML, a type of leukemia. Doctors gave him six weeks to live.
"I've always been a fighting spirit and I said this will be a new challenge for me," Izzy Diaz-Tous , told Action News.
His only hope for a cure was a marrow transplant, but like 70% of others needing one, Izzy couldn't find a matching donor in his family. He turned to the National Bone Marrow Registry, but out of 11 and a half million people, there wasn't a single match.
"That was the end of the world coming, to me," Izzy said.
It's something Doctor Ephraim Fuchs of Johns Hopkins University wants to change.
"In the past you had to have a perfect match, otherwise the transplant was too toxic," Izzy said. But results from a recent national trial show by giving a patient chemotherapy three days after the transplant, patients can use a donor who is half matched, meaning the marrow is half-identical to the patient's tissue type.
"All parents, biological parents are half-matched, all children of the patient are half-matched and about half of brothers and sisters are half matched," Ephraim Fuchs, M.D., an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.
Treating blood cancer is only the beginning.
"Potentially we could be treating every patient who has aids or sickle cell disease or even autoimmune disease," Dr. Fuchs said.
As for Izzy, his son Alex was a half-match and their marrow transplant was a success.
"The proudest thing he ever done is to give me life," Izzy said.
Now Izzy's cancer free and life isn't half bad.
Besides saving his life, Izzy said he got another benefit from receiving his son's marrow. Before the treatment, Izzy had salt and pepper hair. When his hair grew back after chemo, it was jet black! Half-match marrow transplants are now being done at large medical centers all across the country. Plans are underway for a four-year randomized trial for the transplants in early 2012. If you'd like to become a bone marrow donor, log onto www.bethematch.org
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