TUPELO, Miss.-Hayley Harrington of Saltillo is asking area residents to give the gift of life.
“If not for one special lady, I wouldn’t be here today,” said the 37-year-old mother of two. “You can save people’s lives just by donating your time.”
Around the end of April 2012, Harrington started not feeling well. “I ran a fever, and it just kept getting worse,” Harrington said. “I thought I had strep throat.” Her doctor ran some blood work and promptly sent her to Emergency Department. She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The most common type of acute leukemia in adults, this type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if not treated.
In May 2012, Harrington was hospitalized at North Mississippi Medical Center for a seven-day “induction” round of chemotherapy using a very high dose of cancer-fighting medication. She spent several weeks in the hospital recuperating and came back mid-June for her first “consolidation” round, a lower dose of chemotherapy. She was scheduled for three more consolidation rounds, but after the second one, her blood count wasn’t cooperating. “My red blood cell and white blood cell counts weren’t where they needed to be, so I couldn’t have any more chemotherapy,” Harrington said. Unfortunately, she relapsed in March.
Harrington’s only hope was to have a bone marrow transplant (also known as a stem cell implant), a procedure that involved infusing her body with healthy stem cells to replace damaged or diseased ones. A stem cell implant may become necessary if a person’s bone marrow stops working and doesn’t produce enough healthy stem cells or, as in her case, as the result of high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
But for Harrington’s body to accept the healthy cells, the donor must be a close match. According to www.bethematch.com, 70 percent of patients don’t have a donor in their family and depend on the Be the Match registry to find an unrelated bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood.
“It was unreal,” Harrington said. “It normally takes months and months to find a match, and we found a perfect match in less than a month. We were a 10/10 match, which is the best possible match for an unrelated donor.” All that Harrington knows about the donor is that she is a 48-year-old female who gave her a remarkable gift-life.
Harrington was sent to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville where she underwent two days chemotherapy and three days of radiation to destroy her diseased marrow. Then the donor’s healthy blood-forming cells were given directly into the Harrington’s bloodstream, where they began to function and multiply. “For me the procedure was like getting a blood infusion,” she said. “We laughed and talked through the whole thing.”
After her transplant on June 27, Harrington remained at Vanderbilt for a month while her blood counts increased to the levels they needed to reach. After she was released from the hospital, she and husband Shane rented an apartment nearby for the required 100 days so doctors could closely monitor her progress. She recently returned home to 12-year-old Wes and 7-year-old Van, and hopes to one day resume teaching third grade in Pontotoc.
Despite everything Harrington has been through, she knows she is extremely blessed to be alive. “God is good,” she said. “That’s all I’m saying.”
Because North Mississippi Medical Center wants to be a part of more happy endings like Harrington’s, the staff is sponsoring a bone marrow drive from 4-7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, in Room 21 of the hospital’s East Tower. Individuals between the ages of 18 and 44 who meet the health guides and are willing to donate to any patient in need are encouraged to join the registry. “It only takes a few minutes, and no blood work is required. All they do is a cheek swab,” explained Erin Watson, a registered nurse on NMMC’s oncology unit. “If the donor is matched with someone, the registry will call them for further testing.”
Participating in the drive is free, but it costs the registry $100 to add each person, so monetary donations are appreciated. For more information, call (662) 377-8778 or visit www.bethematch.com.