Livermore resident Lisa Londry is using her own heartbreaking experience to help others.
Both Londry’s husband, Chad, and daughter, Haley, had a rare immune deficiency disorder known as GATA2. First identified in 2011, GATA2 was relatively unknown and Haley was one of the first patients diagnosed with it in 2012. Because one of the characteristics of GATA2 is ineffective blood cell production, Chad and Haley suffered from blood cancer requiring bone marrow transplants. Both were able to receive donations through Be The Match (BTM), and beat their cancer.
However, life after transplant is not a simple thing.
“They beat cancer, but died from complications,” said Londry, noting Chad had passed away in 2017, and Haley just last year. “It was the treatment and the after-effects, and the tight rope a patient has to walk after transplant, because you’re on immune suppressants, because your host cells are fighting those delivered cells as foreign objects. What the real hardship is for these transplant doctors is how to balance suppressing the immune system enough, so that your body can accept the new cells. Because at the same time, you are vulnerable to every virus and sickness, and the side effects from the chemo and radiation.”
After watching her loved ones suffer through their ordeals, Londry chose to step up and help raise awareness for Be The Match, an organization dedicated to matching blood cell and bone marrow donors to patients in need. Registration is simple – you just need a simple mouth swab – and your data is securely stored in their database, waiting to be matched with a patient whose life you could save.
Kristen Bates, Northern California Account Manager for BTM, said about 80% of the time, donors who match a patient will be asked to donate stem cells from their blood stream – a simple process with no downtime. The other 20% of the time, donors are asked to donate bone marrow from the back of the hip. The procedure is done while the patient is under anesthesia and requires up to seven days of downtime for recovery.
“Be The Match will pay for everything up to and including boarding your pet, if necessary,” Bates said. “Our center is down in San Diego and Be The Match will pay for you and a companion to fly down, meals, hotel, and the physical before the donation, because we want to ensure everyone has a wonderful experience so they can pass that on to others.”
As part of her effort to spread the word about BTM, Londry is collaborating with Bates to host an event at Ralph Wattenburger Park in Livermore on Saturday, April 30. The event will center around a bench dedicated to Haley’s memory, and funded by Londry, as well as Haley’s other half, Austin Ortiz.
“This event is about the bench and having Haley’s legacy live on,” Ortiz said.
He recalled driving by the park with Haley when they went to visit her parents in Livermore.
“When we were trying to think of a way to celebrate her memory, one thing that kept coming to me was this park, because she talked about it and the memories she had there,” said Ortiz. “She played soccer her whole life and that park was special because she had 10 years of practices there, and more importantly, she had a couple years of her dad being her coach there before he passed away from his own complications of GATA2. Knowing that park meant so much and the bench would be there, it just seemed special.”
Bates said she is excited to collaborate with Londry and Ortiz to raise awareness for BTM. One of BTM’s goals is to increase the racial diversity of its registry, because some ethnic groups currently have lower chances of finding a match due to lower registered numbers of that ethnicity.
“We are committed to doubling the number of lives saved in underserved populations by 2023,” Bates said. “We are doing a huge outreach to ethnic organizations to help boost these numbers to give everyone an equal opportunity.”
BTM will be registering donors at the dedication ceremony for Haley’s Bench, Saturday, April 30, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Ralph Wattenburger Park, 1515 Honeysuckle Road, in Livermore. Anyone is welcome to come register, ask questions and honor Haley’s memory.
For more information or to request a home swab kit, visit bethematch.org.