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Be the Match to hold Park City marrow drive

Park City High School senior and Sterling Scholar winner Catalina Ritzinger was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma (bone cancer) in 2008.

After a year of chemotherapy treatment and undergoing a femur transplant, it seemed all was well, until the family went on a trip to New York, said her father Heimo Ritzinger

"We were in New York because the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent us on an incredible trip," Ritzinger said. "While we were there, Catalina started getting sick. She had a cold and it got worse."

When the family returned to their home in Park City, Catalina was diagnosed with leukemia AML, Ritzinger said.

"The leukemia was caused by the chemical treatment Catalina received for the Ewings sarcoma," he said. "We knew there was a six percent chance of her developing the leukemia from the treatment, but since that percentage was so low, we didn’t worry too much about it. Unfortunately, she was one of the six percentile."

Since February, Catalina has been undergoing more chemotherapy for the leukemia, Ritzinger said.

"As of Wednesday, we are pleased to say, she is in remission," he said. "There are no cancer cells visible."

Still, Catalina will need a bone marrow transplant to make a full recovery.

"You can only get a bone marrow transplant if all the leukemia is out of the body," Ritzinger said. "The problem is most of the time compatible donors cannot be found within the family."

The good news is two donors have been found are compatible to Catalina’s marrow type, via the Be The Match registry, organized by the National Marrow Donor Program.

"There are only two matches in the whole world, and they both are in Germany," Ritzinger said. "They are being contacted and will go to the hospital for some check ups. If all is well, then the marrow cells will be donated and flown to Park City.

"If Catalina still shows she is leukemia free, then she’ll undergo the transplant," he said.

The marrow will provide Catalina with a new immune system, which will cure her permanently, Ritzinger said.

"If it wasn’t for the registry, she probably wouldn’t have this chance to make it," he said. "Her present immune system has already proven the fact that it can’t fight the leukemia. Without a new immune system, there would be no chance at all if it came back, and only a donor can facilitate that."

The registry is a database that houses the personal genetic information of those who are willing to donate bone marrow or stem cells to a patient in need of a transplant, said the Dolores Rue-Jones Senior account executive with the National Marrow Donor Program.

"We educate the communities about the need for bone marrow transplantation and we register donors on the database by making it as convenient for them as possible." Rue-Jones said. "Registration is rather simple. It’s completion of a consent form, which is the donor’s commitment to be on and be updated on the database and to be available so we can locate them as quickly as possible if they come up as partial matches.

"All the donors do is swab the inside of their cheeks," she said. "From that information, we’re able to get the bone-marrow type and put it on the computer."

Once a match is found, there are two ways in which donations takes place, Rue-Jones said.

The most common procedure, called PBSC or peripheral blood stem cell donation, takes the stem cells from the donors’ arms, which resembles a blood donation, she said.

"To accomplish this, the donor must receive injections for five consecutive days of a medication that causes the donors’ body to reproduce new, infant and healthy stem cells at an accelerated rate," she said. "From one arm, we’ll collect the cells and the other arm we’ll replace the plasma. Since there is no invasive surgery, the donors recover a day or so after the procedure."

The other procedure involves surgery, Rue-Jones explained.

"It’s performed under an anesthetic, so it’s not at all like the drama and horror stories we see on TV," she said with a laugh. "The donor doesn’t not feel any discomfort during the process, however, when they wake up, they are sore and stiff, but not incapacitated by any means."

Donor registration drives, like the one that will take place at the Park City Ice Arena on May 22, are crucial because only 30 percent of the patients who need a transplant will find a match within their immediate family, Rue-Jones said.

"Every day there are about 6,000 patients searching our data base," she said. "There is a need for us to be more diverse in adding various bone marrow types to the database."

Be The Match makes donors available to people all around the world, who need a match, Rue-Jones said.

"We have 8 million on the U.S. database and worldwide 11 million," she said. "Everyone who is willing to join the registry should take that first step to get registered, because you never know who may be searching, and you could be that person’s only hope."

There will be a donor registration drive at the Park City Ice Arena, 600 Gillmor Dr., on Sunday, May 22, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event is Leavitt Group of Wasatch-Summit Insurance Agency, joined with Met Life Insurance. Other supporting entities include, Park City Municipal Corporation, Park City Ice Arena and the Park City Racquet Club. For more information visit http://www.bethematch.org .


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