Be the Match donors share stories of giving

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed with leukemia. The best chance of beating the blood cancer is a bone marrow transplant. The best chance of finding a perfect match is a sibling. But 70 percent of the time, the life-saving donation comes from someone you don’t even know.

Wes Breland joined the “Be the Match” registry almost two years ago after a friend’s mom was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL. He wasn’t a match for her but he was for someone else. Wes told us, “I just felt like it was going to happen and it did. When I got the phone call then I kinda knew it was real and I was excited about it.”

He immediately began blood work. “They’ve got to make sure you’re 100 percent healthy,” he said, “and that you’re 100 percent in it and willing to do it.” And he was. In Wes’ case, the doctor treating the patient decided to harvest stem cells rather than marrow. So Wes took a series of shots to build up his stem cells. He made two trips to South Carolina to do what he could to help a stranger beat leukemia.

“I hope that’s the case,” he continued. “It is a good feeling but it’s nothing I really did. It’s something I signed up for and I just happened to be a match. I mean, I had to do it. It was really, there was no question.” He says he didn’t do a lot but he may have saved somebody’s life.

Kelley Barber was at the same “Be the Match” registry event at Clearview Cancer Institute in June of 2013. She turned out to be the perfect match for a patient battling non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Like Wes, she says the worst part was the shots because they make you feel like you’ve got a cold. Kelly remembers, “You just keep telling yourself as bad as this feels and it’s not that bad, gosh, what this patient going through over here. It’s nothing compared to what they’re going through to get ready for it.”

Kelley says knowing you’re doing something for someone else that could save their life is bigger than anything she has ever felt before. “It’s extremely humbling. And it’s such an honor that you are able to give if nothing else give somebody and their family that kind of hope,” she said.

And hope is what blood cancer victims need. Kelley says she’s willing to donate again if someone needs her help. “Hopefully this patient won’t need me again but there’s a possibility that he could, absolutely I would go in a heartbeat,” she said with a smile.

And if you’re wondering about the recovery time after donating, it’s nothing. Wes donated on a Thursday. He says he slept great that night and then drove to Baton Rouge the next day for the Alabama LSU football game on Saturday.

Another save a life, be the match donor drive is coming up this week in Huntsville. The UAH College of Nursing and Clearview Cancer Institute are holding it in memory of Leslie Valley who worked at CCI before losing her battle with leukemia last June. Be the match registered 267 potential donors at the first drive. They hope to add 300 people with a two day event.

The donor drive is March 31st and April 1st from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. There are three locations, the UAH University Center exhibit hall, the UAH College of Nursing and CCI. You must be between 18 and 44 to register.