A match has been found for Khephra Nielsen, the St. Croix woman suffering from acute myeloid leukemia who was the subject of a two-island search for a compatible bone marrow donor.
More than 200 individuals came forward to be tested in June and July to see if they were a close enough match to provide a life-saving donation of bone marrow.
Whether the person who will donate the marrow was found during the local drives or through the marrow registration program is not known, according to Lillian Sutherland, local coordinator of the Minority Organ/Tissue Transplant Education Program.
"I have no idea, we don’t know," Sutherland said. "We got an e-mail that there was a match."
While it’s nice to think that the donor might have come from Khephra’s home territory, that’s really of secondary importance. The important part of the news is that the 30-year old Khephra is at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York undergoing preparation for the treatment, which is expected to take place in a couple of days.
Nielsen is a St. Croix native and an architect who had recently been hired at the University of the Virgin Islands. But right as she was celebrating that news, she was diagnosed with the disease.
The body’s bone marrow, the milky-white substance in the center of bones, produces the white and red blood cells and platelets needed for life. Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the marrow, making it unable to produce those cells needed to fight off infection and carry nourishment throughout the body.
Chemotherapy destroys the bad cells, but it also destroys any good marrow cells. The body will create new marrow to replace the old, but there’s a chance that the new marrow will also have leukemia. By transplanting fresh, healthy marrow from a donor who is a genetic match, the chances of survival are significantly increased.
Just five per cent of a donor’s bone marrow can produce 100 per cent healthy marrow in the recipient and the donor’s body replaces the donated marrow in four to six weeks.
According to the National Marrow Program, most donors are back to their normal routine in a few days. The name, ethnicity and address of the donor are not being released at this time.
While it isn’t known whether a Crucian, Thomian or someone from Alaska is providing Khephra’s marrow, the drive was important, Sutherland said.
Those who volunteered are now part of the donor program’s database and might become a life-saving match for someone else someday.
"The community is so stressed out over the violence," Sutherland said. "Something like this make you realize there is another side to the Virgin Islands and Virgin Islanders."
Sutherland said several people told her during the drive, "I hope I’m the one. I hope I’m the match." But if they aren’t able to be the one to save Khephra, there’s always the chance it could be someone else. According to Limaris Delgado of the National Marrow Donor Program, 6,000 families are currently searching for matches for their own loved ones.
Those interested in being on or learning more about the donor registry can log on to the donor program Web site.