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‘Be the match’

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Bone marrow drive, benefit for Lawrenceburg woman on Friday

By Meaghan Downs

When friend and co-worker Laura Burke thinks about Friday’s “Be the Match” registry drive, she can’t help but think of her friend and fellow co-worker Donna Elam, a surgical scrub technician at Frankfort Regional Medical Center.
“In my heart (the drive is) for Donna,” Laura, a nurse anesthetist who had been working with Donna for almost three years, said. “But of course, I’ve been on the bone marrow registry for 15 years. I would gladly give my blood if it meant saving someone’s life.”
Partnering with the Be the Match organization, Frankfort Regional Medical Center is supporting one of its own, Lawrenceburg resident Donna Elam, with a bone marrow registry drive on Valentine’s Day.
Elam, who was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2013, recently spent more than 50 days in the hospital for two rounds of aggressive chemotherapy and bone marrow biopsies.
The 36-year-old mother of two has no history of cancer, Burke said, and Donna’s leukemia came quickly and rapidly.
Donna had complained of fatigue for a few weeks, Burke said, and eventually sought medical attention.
Doctors told her to seek treatment right away or she’d be dead in 100 days, Burke said. Donna was hospitalized the next day, she said.
“Donna is a sweet person, and she has really handled this beautifully even though (the cancer treatment) has really kicked her in the teeth,” Burke said.
The cancer treatments have also been difficult for the Elam family financially, she said.
Donna’s husband Jeff, who owns an electrical business, also works full-time with the Shelbyville fire department and has been taking care of their 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. He visits his wife in the hospital in Lexington and tries to pick up extra work since Donna is unable to work, Burke said.
Donna and Jeff, a Lawrenceburg native, will have been married 17 years in October 2014.
Friday’s event, in addition to the registry drive, will also feature a bake sale with proceeds to benefit the Elams, Burke said.
Doctors and staff at Frankfort Regional have contributed donations for a raffle, including a trip in one of the doctor’s biplane, she said.
But Friday’s registry drive isn’t all about raising funds for the Elam family, Burke said. It’s not about pity; Donna wouldn’t want that, Burke said.
The event is about support.  
“They didn’t want to do this all just for them,” Burke said of the Elams. “There’s a lot of people out there who need this help.”
Jeff Elam, Laura’s husband, said they found out last Thursday that Burke’s only brother was a bone marrow match.
Donna was then readmitted last Friday into the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center Friday for a six-day chemo treatment in preparation to receive her new bone marrow.
“This was pretty much like a blessing; she will die without this transplant,” Jeff said in a phone interview last Friday.
Jeff said he wanted to emphasize that the bone marrow registry drive isn’t just about Donna; it’s about using Donna’s situation to help those patients who may also be in need of a bone marrow match.
“We just want to make sure people know how easy to get on a database is,” he said.
There’s no obligation when signing up to be a donor, Jeff said; those attending only need to agree to provide some information and get their cheek swabbed for a DNA sample.
Often people are frightened about being chosen as a match and the procedure that follows, but Jeff reassures that it’s not as invasive as people may think.
“This is an easy beginning step,” Jeff said of signing up for the registry database. “I think anybody who’s healthy and willing to do it should do it.”

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‘Be the match’ bone marrow
 registry drive
When: Friday, Feb. 14
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Frankfort Regional Medical Center, 299 King’s Daughter’s Drive, Frankfort, second floor classroom
A bake sale will be set up in the cafeteria with proceeds to benefit Donna Elam and her family. A raffle, including an opportunity to take a ride in a doctor’s biplane, will also be held with proceeds going to the Elam family.
For more information, contact Dannie Moore with Be the Match at dmoore@nmdp.org or event coordinator Niki at erin.wintek@hcahealthcare.com.