Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Finding a Donor Match for Levi Parker

Marrow donor registry planned for firefighter could help recipients worldwide

SPRINGFIELD — A Be the Match registry drive planned for November, organized in the name of local firefighter Levi Parker, will help bone marrow recipients worldwide who are still seeking a donor match.

The drive is a collaboration between Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC) and Be The Match national registry program.

Parker, who was traveling to Boston on Monday, Oct. 24 for another treatment, said in a telephone interview that it has been 61 days since his transplant, and that his is “doing pretty good.”

“It’s really amazing how the community is coming together for one person,” he said. “I really appreciate it, that’s for sure.”

Parker, who lives in Springfield, was diagnosed on June 23, 2016 at age 21 with Aplastic Anemia, a rare blood disease, and short telomeres. He was working full-time and serving as a firefighter with the West Weathersfield Volunteer Fire Department (WWVFD) at the time. He was active in the Men’s Golf League and softball league, and enjoying time with friends and family, he wrote in a testimonial he provided to RRMC and Be The Match.

“Immediately I was isolated from friends, family and co-workers as my body no longer produced red blood cells or platelets,” Parker said. “My only hope for survival was a bone marrow transplant.”

He has since been treated with a bone marrow transplant in Boston, and has received blood transfusions weekly, sometimes twice a week, since then. Now he returns weekly to Boston with his family for follow-up appointments for the next month. He is hopeful that after this month, he will only need to go back once a month.

Parker said he is “progressing well,” with strict limitations due to a suppressed immune system.
He also said that he is grateful for the Be the Match registry, which provided him with the possibility of more than one donor.

“I will be forever grateful to the young woman who cared enough to give someone she didn’t even know the opportunity to live,” he wrote.

Parker also expressed gratitude for his family, including his grandfather, his mother and her employer, Young’s Propane, for hosting the donor registry drive, spreading awareness and allowing him to reach out and show “how easy it is to save a life.”

His community and firefighter family has rallied around him since the diagnosis, recently hosting a fundraiser dinner to help with medical and travel expenses.

A Be The Match Marrow Donor registry is planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building at 191 River St. in Springfield.

All community members are invited to become part of the registry, which offers bone marrow or stem cell matches to people in need of transplants when battling leukemia, lymphoma or other blood diseases.

Registration is simple, requiring paperwork and a cheek swab. No blood is taken at registration, according to a press release from Kerry Ellis, program coordinator for the RRMC Marrow Donor Program.

Ellis said on Monday that the donor drive is being organized in Parker’s name and in recognition of his recent transplant, but may benefit anyone in need of a transplant.

“Everyone registering is agreeing to be on the registry for any recipient worldwide,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t mean that you have to travel.”

Ellis said that if a donor is selected as a match, that person would give their donation at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. From there, the donated blood would be transported to the nearest donor center.

Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44, in “good general health,” and willing to donate to any person they may match to join the registry, according to the press release.

Firefighter Levi Parker, left rear, stands with his father, West Parker, mother Randy Parker, and sister Paige Parker, in front. Parker’s family has helped organize a Be the Match donor registry event planned for Nov. 5 in Springfield. 

 Joining the registry has no out-of-pocket cost to those registering. Health insurance policies written in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, by state mandate, cover the cost of the tissue typing required to place someone on the registry, according to Ellis.

For those from Vermont, or without health insurance, out of state insurance, or high deductibles, the cost will be covered by the Marrow Donor Program at RRMC, she said.

“Every day thousands of patients who need a life-saving marrow or blood stem cell transplant are searching for a matching donor. There are more than 20 million donors worldwide who stand ready to give someone a future, yet even with a registry of millions, there are patients waiting and hoping, unable to find a match,” she said in the press release.

A marrow or blood stem cell transplant is a way to treat and possibly cure people with leukemia, lymphoma and other deadly diseases. Patients in need of a marrow or blood stem cell transplant are most likely to match someone of their own race and ethnicity, all according to Be the Match. Donations are typically done through an automated blood donation, 75 percent of the time, or through a minor surgical procedure done under anesthesia, 25 percent of the time, according to the press release.

The Be The Match Registry is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) to help facilitate unrelated marrow and blood stem cell transplants as a single point of access for a “long-standing collaborative network” of national and international medical facilities in marrow and cord blood transplantation. It helps connect patients, doctors, donors and researchers to resources, according to the press release.

Certain medical conditions can make donors ineligible to join the registry.

For more information or for questions, contact Ellis at (802) 747-8667 or email, or visit   

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