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Unselfish Acts by the Unrelated

December 29, 1994|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Transplant survivors who get bone marrow donations from strangers call themselves MUDS, which stands for Marrow from an Unrelated Donor Source.

It is a small, bittersweet fraternity of people, bound by the kindness of strangers.

In November, 1992, Arcadia resident Kathy Novell was one of those strangers, a donor to a dying man whose bone marrow matched hers.

"It's nothing, it's so simple," said Novell, 35.

Novell, a speech pathologist with three small children, never met her recipient, a 42-year-old man with leukemia, who died a year after the transplant from a related heart condition.

"I'd do it again, in a minute," she said. "The thing is, what if it was my kid? What if it was my family? . . . It may be you sometime."

About 30% of patients who need bone marrow transplants have a family member--usually a sibling--who is an exact immunological match, while the remainder seek unrelated donors through the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis. The national registry has 1.4 million potential donors on file.

Since 1987, there have been 3,000 bone marrow transplants using unrelated donors, according to the national registry. Transplants from unrelated bone marrow donors began in 1979.

Each year, about 5,000 people receive bone marrow transplants, while 5,000 to 15,000 more die because of a lack of matching donors. Survival rates for transplant patients who get bone marrow from unrelated donors range from 30% to 60%.

In 1991, the issue of bone marrow donation was championed through the much-publicized story of Anissa Ayala, a Walnut teen-ager with leukemia. After a nationwide search for an unrelated donor failed, Ayala's parents conceived a child in a successful attempt to find a bone marrow match for their daughter, a patient at the City of Hope.

Recent news reports on a promising new technique for bone marrow transplants is giving hope to the roughly 9,000 people in the country who are searching for unrelated marrow donors. Italian and Israeli researchers say the technique for performing bone marrow transplants could make it easier for family members of leukemia patients to serve as donors. The technique would eliminate the current need for the precise immunological matching between a donor and recipient.

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