Doctors gave Lisa Shead's husband, Neal, a poor prognosis when he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in January.
The Appling man began his fourth round of chemotherapy Monday and is awaiting a bone marrow transplant - a procedure he can't live without.
Each day nationwide, 6,500 people are in need of donated bone marrow. Mr. Shead's family says he's one of the lucky few who will likely get the life-saving donation.
"There were 26,000 potential matches for him," said Mrs. Shead, a secretary at Greenbrier High School. "There were 873 very good matches."
Based on Mr. Shead's experience, his family recently decided to hold a drive to register bone marrow donors for others with a similar affliction. The drive took place at Greenbrier High School on Friday.
"He was the inspiration for it," Mrs. Shead said of the drive that added 51 donors to the marrow program.
Bone marrow transplants are used to treat, and often cure, more than 70 blood diseases, mostly leukemia, lymphomas and other blood cancers. Many people with these diseases aren't as lucky as Mr. Shead, said Susan Cook, a recruitment specialist with the National Marrow Donor Program's Greater Southeast Area office in Columbia.
"This is just a wonderful act of kindness today," Cook said of the Shead family organizing the drive in hopes of finding marrow donors for others searching for life-saving matches. "This is generosity, where they are paying back what they have, what has been given to them ... It just warms my heart."
Matches are determined based on the number of corresponding antigens between the donor and person needing the transplant.
About 30 percent of people needing a bone marrow transplant will find a matching donor within their own families. The remaining 70 percent turn to the more than 7 million member registry, Cook said, adding that only two out of every 10 people seeking a match will find one on the registry.
"This is in particular more of an issue with minorities," Cook said, adding that because marrow is genetically inherited, people can only receive donated marrow from people within their own race. "Out of over 7 million volunteer donors on the registry, less than 20 percent are of minority and less than 8 percent are African-American."
Being added to the registry requires filling out some paperwork and swabbing the inside of the mouth. The chances of being called to donate marrow through the registry are between one in 100,000 and one in a million, Cook said.
Ryan Tharp, 21, of Grovetown, added her name to the registry at Friday's drive after her mother, a Greenbrier High teacher, talked her into it.
"I thought, 'Yeah, why not?'" Tharp said.
Greenbrier High teacher Cindy Pletcher said she was donating "just for support," and said any pain associated with donating marrow was worth saving a life.
Cook said most people are unaware of the need for bone marrow and stem cell donors until a disease hits close to home and someone they love needs a donation.
Shead's family said they now plan to hold the drive annually at the school to raise awareness and potentially register a matching donor for another patient in need.
"I think God can use Neal Shead to save a lot of lives," said Melanie Shead, Mr. Shead's sister-in-law.
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