By: Alexis Harborth Photos by: Rachel Benavides
“The need for the cure never ends,” says Leticia Mondragon, the Donor Development & Engagement Specialist at Be the Match. This 501c3 nonprofit organization gives those with life-threatening blood cancers and disorders the opportunity to be matched with a donor who could save their lives.
Patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other life-threatening diseases rely on Be the Match to find a donor for bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cells, or a cord blood transplant – which may be their best or only hope for a cure. The statistics behind those in need are staggering.
“Every 3 minutes, someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or disorder. That’s 20 people an hour, 480 a day,” Mondragon says. One such patient is Laynie Houser.
“In early 2015, we began to see signs that something wasn’t quite right with Laynie’s health. By May 2015, we’d received confirmation that our 7-year-old had aplastic anemia,” recounts Holly Houser, Laynie’s mother.
Aplastic anemia is bone marrow failure, a life-threatening condition in which the body stops making adequate amounts of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
“On the first day of diagnosis, we were told Laynie needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.” Holly explained they tried to find a match within their family, but could not; 70 percent of patients do not have a fully matched donor in their family. “We asked Be the Match to step in and find us the perfect, unrelated match to save our daughter.”
Through science and medical advancements, it’s easier than ever to help save a life. “It’s now through a stem cell transplant that you may be able to cure someone of cancer,” Mondragon says. “About 80 percent of needed donations are peripheral stem cell donations, which is very similar to a platelet or plasma donation.”
Be the Match is the largest, most diverse registry in the nation. A search for Laynie’s match turned up several possibilities, and in January 2017, her perfect match was identified as Alyssa, a surgical nurse in Wisconsin.
“At 11:59 p.m. on Good Friday, our donor’s bone marrow began flowing into Laynie’s body,” Holly says, explaining that while the recovery was challenging, her daughter is now considered fully cured. “Today, Laynie is an active, social, healthy 13-year-old girl. She celebrates her 4th rebirthday in April 2021.”
When it comes to joining the registry, Laynie has a special message to our community. “By joining the Be the Match registry, you are providing hope and life to patients who are facing their last chance at life. You can be a living donor and save a life.”
Mondragon is utilizing digital-based initiatives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “It takes 5-7 minutes to sign up with Be the Match, and it’s contact-free. You can visit us online or you can text Hero4 to 61474 for a sign-up link. We encourage the community to register to see if they are a match for someone in need.”
A few minutes can save a life and make an impact. As Holly says, “Our donor Alyssa not only saved Laynie’s life, but she saved all our lives. It is an indescribable blessing. You can save a life. It’s nothing short of miraculous.”