Submitted by BE THE MATCH
Maureen Leuba’s journey battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia was a defining moment in her life. She is not alone. Every three minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer or other blood disease that requires a blood stem cell transplant to survive.
Unfortunately, 70 percent of patients do not have a matching donor in their family and rely on the national Be The Match Registry® for a match. “Matching” a patient with a donor is not the same as having the same blood type. It’s much more complex. Doctors look for a donor with a close human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match to the patient. This close HLA match is the most important factor in finding the best donor for a patient.
Maureen was blindsided by this blood cancer diagnosis. She and her family were preparing to move to Beijing for three years for her husband’s job. The packers were arriving in two weeks. Maureen was feeling increasingly sick but she kept thinking it was due to stress from preparing for the move and the fact that her mother had just died two weeks prior. Until she became so sick that she could barely function…extreme fatigue, pain (from her spleen being three times normal size), shortness of breath, bruising, and sweats. She wound up in the emergency room where the doctors and nurses were amazed that she was able to walk as her blood tests were critically abnormal. She was immediately admitted to the hospital, rushed to have an infusion catheter placed in her chest that evening, and began chemotherapy the next morning. Her first hospitalization was 30 days. Her youngest son celebrated his tenth birthday while she was inpatient and terribly ill.
Maureen’s chance of surviving this aggressive blood cancer more than a few months, without a stem cell transplant, was only 10 to 20 percent when she was diagnosed eleven years ago. Her siblings were both tested, but neither one was a life-saving match for her. At the time of diagnosis, her children were ages 9, 13, and 15. They didn’t know if their mother would survive, and it was a very difficult time for everyone. Maureen fought hard, always focusing on surviving for her family. She endured months of aggressive chemotherapy, hospitalizations, severe illness, and life threatening situations.
A selfless stranger named Megan, 2,000 miles away in California, joined the Be The Match registry at a donor registry drive where she was attending college at UC Santa Barbara, just three weeks after Maureen was diagnosed with leukemia. She was Maureen’s one perfect match (out of 19 million on the international registry at the time). Megan donated her stem cells through a procedure that is a type of blood donation and saved Maureen’s life. When Megan donated her stem cells, she was an anonymous stranger to Maureen and Megan only knew she had the ability to potentially save a 48-year-old mother’s life, and didn’t know anything else about her.
Two years later, Megan and Maureen mutually agreed to connect. After a few months of phone calls and emails, Maureen and her oldest child flew to California to meet Megan. It was a beautiful and an intensely emotional experience. Maureen has immense gratitude and love for Megan and feels like Megan is part of their family now. They have visited each other’s homes and taken vacations together. Maureen, her husband, and their youngest child attended Megan’s wedding. Megan refers to Maureen’s family as her bone marrow family. When asked, Megan said she would gladly say yes and donate again “a thousand times over” if needed.
Maureen feels very blessed to be here for her family, embracing life, and to have been able to watch her three children grow and become thriving young adults. And enjoys and adores her two-year-old grandson! She is eternally grateful to her medical team, supportive family and friends, Be The Match, and her incredible stem cell donor, Megan.
In an effort to give back, and with hopes of saving more lives, Maureen became a Be The Match/National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) volunteer. As a volunteer for this organization, she has helped facilitate over 100 donor registry drives, provided education and awareness through speaking engagements, and made fundraising efforts in the central Illinois region for the past ten years. She became a legislative advocacy ambassador for Be The Match/NMDP nine years ago and a Great Lakes Region ambassador advisor assisting ambassadors in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan four years ago. During the pandemic, Maureen became a volunteer courier, transporting stem cells all over the country for six months to transplant centers where patients awaited life-saving cells. She is passionate about Be The Match and wishes to help give others the same second chance at life that she was given.
You may be the cure someone is waiting for! You may be eligible to join the Be The Match Registry if you meet the following requirements:
- Are between the ages of 18 to 40.
- Live in the United States
- Meet health guidelines
- Are willing to donate to any patient in need
Studies show that blood stem cells from younger donors provide better long-term rates for our patients. Joining the Be The Match donor registry is free and easy. It just takes a simple cheek swab to join.
How to Join
- Register online at join.bethematch.org/PeoriaForThe Cure or text PeoriaForTheCure to 61474
- After you register, a “swab kit” will be mailed to your home
- Swab your cheek and mail the sample back to complete registration
If you are age 41 or older, there are other ways to help! You can spread the word about Be The Match, fundraise, recruit potential donors, or get involved on a legislative level. Fundraising or making donations for Be The Match helps grow the registry, cover uninsured costs for patients, and helps fund groundbreaking research.
Be The Match®, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), is a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to helping every patient get the life-saving transplant they need. As trusted leaders in advancing treatments for those facing life-threatening blood cancers, we provide ground-breaking research, innovative technologies, patient support, and education that save lives.
For more information, please contact Maureen Leuba, Be The Match volunteer
and advocacy ambassador/ambassador advisor based in Peoria, IL at
email@example.com or call 309-696-7319, or check out bethematch.org.