In 1990, Katharina Harf’s life changed forever when her mother, Mechtild, was diagnosed with an acute form of blood cancer. Her family was told that a bone marrow transplant could save her mother's life, provided she could find a matching donor. The odds of finding a match ranged from one in 20,000 to one in millions. With only 3,000 donors available in Germany at the time it made the situation seem hopeless.
Determined to make the impossible, possible, Mechtild’s husband, Peter, started a journey to find his wife a donor. Recognizing that the need for bone marrow donors extended far beyond his wife, he worked with her physician, Professor Dr. Gerhard Ehninger and founded Delete Blood Cancer DKMS in 1991. Sadly, that same year, Mechtild lost her hard-fought battle. Katharina was only 14.
In 2004, Katharina led the expansion of Delete Blood Cancer outside of Germany and into the United States. Through this effort, Delete Blood Cancer has established a national donor recruitment program to increase and diversify the donor registry. With campaigns throughout the U.S., Delete Blood Cancer is also raising awareness about the urgent need for bone marrow donors. What began as a mission to save one woman, has become a global movement dedicated to saving everyone with blood cancer.
New England donor recruitment consultant, Michael Guglielmo, knows all too well the impact and importance of bone marrow donation. His son Giovanni was diagnosed with a rare genetic immune disorder at 5 months old, requiring doctors to create a new immune system for him. Gio, as the young boy is lovingly called, prompted almost 50,000 people to register as bone marrow donors. Sadly, at the age of 5, Gio succumbed to his fight against NEMO 1.
Guglielmo has registered over 65,000 donors since his son's blood cancer diagnosis and successfully found over 236 matches.
“Four out of every ten people find a match and the rest die,” stated Guglielmo. “A blunt and bleak reminder of the urgent need to improve that ratio. All adults ages 18 to 55 are eligible to register and therefore have the power to save a life.”
How do you “Save a Life”? Register to be a bone marrow donor!
“The more people we have in the registry, the more people we save,” remarked Guglielmo. “Five minutes of a donor’s time could be a lifetime for somebody with blood cancer.”
The City of Brockton will host a week-long bone marrow donation campaign April 10 to April 17. There will be several donation sites around the city with various donations times so everyone has the opportunity to "Save a Life". Good Samaritan Medical Center will host a donation drive for staff and the community during this week.
According to Guglielmo, if you can’t attend one of the donation drives, you can still be a donor. Visit deletebloodcancer.org and register to have a kit sent to your home.
For more information on how to become a donor or to volunteer at a blood drive, email Michael Guglielmo at Michael@dkmsamericas.org or call 246-276-7380.
Special thanks Jim Mahoney, CPht, community leader at Walgreens, and his associate Lesley Washington for their contribution of this article.
1 The NEMO deficiency syndrome is a complex disease caused by genetic mutations in the X-linked NEMO gene.