Local woman signs up for bone marrow registry; receives call for help years later

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Rachelle Bray knew the odds were rare.

But she wasn’t sure how rare — not until she received a phone call in June, and the voice on the other line said she was a match.

There is only a one in 20,000 chance that someone could be an unrelated, compatible bone marrow donor, according to the American Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

And Bray was that one.

“Everybody is unique,” Bray, who is a cardiopulmonary technologist for the Punxsutawney Area Hospital, said. “To find two people, and their blood is that similar, it’s exciting.”

The phone call came about six years after Bray participated in a wellness screening at the Punxsutawney Area Hospital, a screening facilitated by Dan Blough, who was a 17-year-old Punxsutawney Area High School senior at the time.

About 75 people signed up for the screening, which took place Sept. 29, 2005, the first of its kind to be held at the hospital.

“I read up on some statistics, and I honestly thought this was nice to do, because there’s always a chance out there, but there are these statistics, and you just don’t know,” Blough said. “Seventy-five
people from Punxsy (participated), and you don’t know if any one of them would ever get called. So it’s a pretty big deal.”

When the time came for Blough to make a decision about what his senior project was going to be, he knew he wanted to do something to benefit the community.

He started to think about two friends and his aunt, and how all three had individual fights with cancer. His friends both had leukemia, and his aunt was a two-time cancer survivor.

“I know other people that have had these procedures done, so it was something that hit close to the home, and it was something that not only benefited the community, but society as a whole,” Blough said.
So he set to work.

He needed to raise money to bring an American Red Cross representative from Philadelphia to Punxsy, and he also wanted to raise money so that participants would not have to pay the full $25 fee it takes to sign up for bone marrow registry.

“No one in this community had ever done this — a bone marrow registry,” Laurie Klingensmith, Corporate Services, Punxsutawney Area Hospital said. “And I think a lot of times, people in small towns think you can do these things only if you live in a larger urban area, but Dan proved that it’s possible for a small town to do something like this. He raised the money to get the (Red Cross representative) here and was able to do it at our own hospital facility.”

Although Blough was happy with the turnout, he also thinks some people may have been deterred because they don’t understand the process.
According to the American Bone Marrow Donor Registry, a person must be between 18 and 60-years-old, have no history of hepatitis, heart disease, cancer or AIDS to become a donor.

On the day of the registry, the procedure is very simple — only a small vial of blood is taken.

“In order to get registered, some people may think they have to do a lot more than get a small vial of blood taken; that’s why people are reluctant to take the first step,” Blough said.

But Bray was happy to take the first step and said she’d be willing to donate again if she could.

“There was no hesitation, there wasn’t,” Bray said. “I just put myself in that person’s place, and if there was someone out there who could potentially save my life, I wouldn’t want them to say, ‘Oh, this is such a bad week for me.’”

When Bray received the call in June, she agreed to have some additional testing done at a lab in Altoona.

Once she was found to be the best match, after a physical, some more blood tests and EKGs, the procedure was scheduled, and instead of bone marrow, Bray donated stem cells, a decision that was made by the recipient’s doctor.

With the procedure completed, Bray thought it best to spread the word. And who better than her two kids, who now look up to their mother as an inspiration.

"It's been interesting because my kids are 10 and 13, so to have my kids say, 'My mom had to go away, but this is what she's doing' ... I didn't even realize until afterwards," she said. "I think it's a great thing for them to see me do that."

Klingensmith agrees.

"I think that's such a testimony to (Bray's) kids," she said. "For kids to learn the importance of giving to other people, it goes along with community service. It actually teaches children to give something to someone else, which is a wonderful experience."

Blough's bone marrow registry was the first and only one conducted at the hospital, but he, along with Bray and Klingensmith, hopes the word continues to spread throughout the community.

"Maybe someone reading this is looking to do a senior project and might decide to do a similar screening — and we might get 100 or 125 different people who had never heard about it before," Klingensmith said. "So it's so wonderful when you think about what the outreach effects could be."
For more information about bone marrow registry, visit www.marrow.org.