Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

April 15, 2014

Be the match

Leukemia survivor promotes donor registry

JEFFERSONVILLE (AP) — When Phil Meeks went to the doctor for shortness of breath and a burning in his legs, he expected nothing more than a routine diagnosis.

"I was a smoker, so I thought, it's probably my smoking," said Meeks, a 47-year-old Jeffersonville resident.

So it was quite a shock when his doctor came back with alarming blood test results and a prognosis that he would be dead in 30 days if he didn't start chemotherapy treatments immediately.

"I was blown away," said Meeks, whose doctor also delivered a diagnosis of acute myloid leukemia in August 2012.

Because his form of cancer was so aggressive, Meeks needed a bone marrow transplant to have a chance of long-term survival. However, his chance of finding a match was only 20 percent because he is African-American with multiracial genes — minorities have a harder time finding matches due to the lower number of people on the bone marrow registry.

"I figured my days were over," he told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/R2YnSh ).

Meeks was met with another shock about three months later. Doctors had found not one, but three bone marrow matches.

"(The nurse) said, 'That's just unheard of,'" Meeks said. "I was blessed immensely."

But not everyone is so fortunate, he said.

That's why Meeks — now cancer-free — volunteers for Be The Match, a nonprofit organization that works to boost bone marrow registry numbers for those suffering from blood cancers.

The largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world, Be The Match registry has 11 million potential donors in its database.

"And it's still not even nearly enough," he said.

To rack up these numbers, and to help others who need bone marrow transplants, Meeks helps organize events to sign people up for the registry. ...

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