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Leukemia Survivor Credits Her Life to Tiny Blood Donors
Date:10/7/2011

or a bone marrow transplant. Her brother and two sisters were her best bet for a match, and they underwent testing. "They all matched each other, but not me," she recalled.

She turned next to the National Marrow Donor Program, which maintains a registry of people willing to donate marrow. But the registry contained no matches.

Her family sprang into action, urging African Americans across the country to register as marrow donors in hopes of finding Austin a match. They reached out through the media, on social networking sites such as Facebook and through the national network of African American churches.

"We added over 13,000 people to the registry within less than 13 weeks," Austin said -- the largest number of donors ever added to the registry by a single family, and the largest number of African American donors the registry ever tallied in a single year.

And yet it did Austin no good. "Through all of those efforts, we didn't find a match for me," she said.

But officials at the National Marrow Donor Program had come up with an alternative. They had identified two cord blood donations as likely matches for Austin. Cord blood is fast becoming an alternative to marrow donation for people of ethnic descent because those cells do not require as precise a match.

"I had heard of the stem cell issue, as a controversial issue," Austin said. "I was not aware of the fact that cord blood was being used as bone marrow transplant."

The transplant itself, which took place in February 2010, was easy enough, Austin said. They hooked her to an IV, and the stem cells flowed into her body. But preparing for the transplant was another story -- something Austin described as "a very grueling process."

"For your body to receive and accept the process, they have to break your body down," she said. Doctors used aggressive chemotherapy and radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells and knock out her immune system and then gave her the transp
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