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Our view: Get registered, save a life

Seven weeks pregnant with her third child, Amanda Schamper received horrifying news. She had leukemia. She would need a bone-marrow transplant after giving birth to save her life, so she could be a mom to her new baby. And her sister, as much as they both assumed she would be, wasn't a match for the transplant.

Schamper's life was still saved, however, thanks to an international registry of willing bone-marrow and stem-cell donors, people from all walks of life who made the decision to step up and, if they could, save the life of someone even though they had never met.

"So I personally understand the importance of trying to register more potential donors," Schamper said in an interview this week with the News Tribune Opinion page. "This is something simple that any one of us can do to help save a life. It's so important to educate the public and community and to let people know how easy it is."

Schamper's story is a reminder of the critical importance of at least seriously considering becoming a registered bone-marrow and stem-cell donor — in case someone out there like her, someone with a blood cancer or blood-related illness, is suddenly in life-or-death need.

May 28 is World Blood Cancer Day, an annual observance of the same reminder.

And a story in the News Tribune on April 22 offered Duluthians yet another prompt. It chronicled the moment a 40-year-old Duluth woman, Merissa Edwards, met the 30-year-old woman from Cologne, Germany, responsible for the stem cell transplant in 2014 that saved her life.

"It's so important for us to help other people keep their families together and save a mother or father or son or daughter," Edwards said in the story. "The more people we can encourage to cheek-swab and get on the registry, the more lives we can help save and help families stay together."

Cheek-swab? Yep, registering is that simple. After signing up at dkms.org, a swab kit comes in the mail. After swabbing the inside of your cheek, you just mail it back. And then wait. In case that day ever comes when someone out there — your genetic twin — is in desperate need of your help.

DKMS is an international nonprofit based in New York that urges registrations and then covers after-insurance costs for donors. Saving a life doesn't cost a thing.

Schamper is now a donor recruitment coordinator for DKMS, one of several such nonprofits that feeds the same international registry. She's in Illinois. Her donor was from California. She got to meet him at a DKMS-sponsored gala in 2011.

"It was a pretty powerful experience being able to meet the man that saved my life and being able to thank him in person. It's a moment I'll never forget," Schamper said. "When somebody needs a bone-marrow or stem-cell transplant it's because all other options have stopped working for them. There's no more chemotherapy that they can do. There's no more medication that they can take. This is somebody's last chance at hope for survival."

If you could help, if you could step up to save a life, even the life of someone you've never met, wouldn't you?

The need is great: Every year in the U.S., around 14,000 patients need a life-saving bone-marrow or stem-cell transplant. Fewer than half find matching donors, however. And only 30 percent find donors within their own families.

While 6.4 million potential donors are registered in the U.S., that actually accounts for only 2 percent of our total population. That's not many of us, and the more who register the better the chances of a match when a life is on the line.

Like Schamper's and Edwards' lives were — two moms who get to continue being moms thanks for the selfless decisions of others.

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