Search On For Marrow Match To Save Life

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Rim country residents can give the gift of life this holiday season by taking part in a bone marrow drive for Amy von Somogyi on Saturday.

Von Somogyi, known in the Rim country for her volunteer work as the Duck Lady and for the Rim Country Literacy Program, is currently undergoing a second round of chemotherapy in the Valley after the initial round failed to produce the results hoped for. The 42-year-old Payson resident was recently diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

Now doctors say von Somogyi's best chance is a bone marrow transplant, but neither her brother nor her sister proved to be a match.

"It's like a fingerprint," Oscar Correa of the National Marrow Donor Program said. "There's six antigens they match on.

"You get three from your mother and three from your father, so the best place to find a match is within your family, which happens about 25 percent of the time."

When, as in von Somogyi's case, there is no family match, the only chance is the donor program.

"The rest of the time you pretty much have to rely on a stranger, and the unique thing about marrow matching is that most likely a match outside of the family is someone from your own ethnic or racial group," Correa said.

To help von Somogyi or possibly one or more of the 30,000 people seeking a bone marrow donor match at any given time, the National Marrow Donor Program will hold a bone marrow clinic from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Payson Regional Senior Circle, 215 N. Beeline across from Wal-Mart, this Saturday, Dec. 20.

Saturday is also von Somogyi's birthday, so birthday cake, coffee and juice will be served to all who participate.

The test itself involves just a finger prick from which a few drops of blood are taken.

"We put it on specially designed filter paper which goes off to the lab," Correa explains. "There they tissue type the sample and donors are put on a national registry."

The registry currently contains five million volunteer donors. When a transplant center anywhere in the U.S. finds a donor that matches their patient, the donor is contacted.

"At that time we tell them they've come up as a match for someone," Correa said. "We're not allowed to tell them who the patient is and where he or she is located; we can only give the age and the sex. After a year the donor and patient can contact one another if both parties are agreeable.

"Any time during the process the donor can back out," Correa added. "But if the donor says yes, we do additional blood testing and also do a physical to make sure nothing has changed healthwise."

There are two ways to harvest marrow. The original process, which is only used about 30 percent of the time, involves a needle aspiration of the pelvic bone. The donor receives a general anesthetic and stays in the hospital overnight.

The newer method, which is used 70 percent of the time is called a peripheral blood stem cell procedure.

"The donor is hooked up to a centrifuge machine with a needle in each arm," Correa said. "We take out a pint to a pint-and-a-half of blood.

"The machine separates the stem cells from the blood and the blood is returned to the donor."

The process takes about four hours and the donor can go home.

The effectiveness of the transplant depends on the level of the match and the patient's age and level of health, but as a rule bone marrow transplants are 83 to 84 percent successful in curing the patient.

"It would be a wonderful and very loving gesture for Amy because it could give her the gift of life," Rim Country Literacy Program Director Su Connell said. "And if not Amy, you could very well save the life of someone else in the world."

Thanks to a grant from Good Samaritan Hospital where von Somogyi is undergoing her chemotherapy, the first 100 Caucasian people to be tested Saturday will be free, as will all minorities. After the first 100, Caucasians will be asked to pay $25.

Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and be in relatively good health.

For more information on the donor program, go to www.marrow.org.

Cards and letters appreciated

Amy von Somogyi is currently undergoing a second round of chemotherapy, and will be quite ill for a week or so. Cards and notes of encouragement can be sent to:

Amy von Somogyi

Room 1236 Pod D

Good Samaritan Hospital

1111 E. McDowell Road

Phoenix, AZ 85006

"I'm in good spirits," Von Somogyi said from her hospital room Thursday. "Every card everybody has ever sent me is on my wall. I've got a Christmas tree my friends got me, and I've got friends that drive down here every day to babysit me. People are just unbelievable."

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