Tracy Abshier is a lifesaver.
During the past 15 years, the Owensboro woman has donated peripheral blood stem cells twice, saving the lives of two people she had never met — a special ed teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, and a 62-year-old German man.
Abshier gets a kick out of telling how the whole thing started.
She was working as a hair stylist at Regis Salon in Towne Square Mall 15 years ago, and some agency hosted a bone marrow drive at the mall. Anyone who agreed to give a blood sample for a bone marrow registry earned a book full of money-saving coupons.
“It was worth a finger prick,” Abshier said, with a laugh.
Of course, at the time, she never thought about being a perfect match — a lifesaver — for two people diagnosed with cancer.
She doesn’t know the identity of the man from Germany, but she’s now good friends with Laura Lynch, a St. Louis woman who was diagnosed with Stage IV acute lymphocytic leukemia.
“Her body had quit making bone marrow on its own,” Abshier said.
Thanks to Abshier’s generous donation, Lynch, now 42, has been cancer free 15 years.
In the U.S., donors and recipients must wait a year to learn each other’s identities and make contact, if they choose to. In Germany, that wait is two years.
Lynch and Abshier are only three years apart in age, and they have children the same age. Lynch sometimes comes here, and Abshier makes trip to visit her in St. Louis.
“Laura and I have become very close,” Abshier said.
She received a thank you letter from the man in Germany a few years ago. At the time, he was doing well.
According to Be the Match, a worldwide nonprofit that matches bone marrow and stem cell donors and recipients, an average of one in 430 people on the registry ends up donating. Abshier was surprised to get that call twice.
Donating bone marrow requires a surgical procedure in a hospital. However, blood stem cells can be harvested in an outpatient clinic.
It’s a six-hour process on the day of the procedure, Abshier said. Nurses insert IVs in each arm.
Blood is removed from one arm, and stem cells are extracted. Then, the donor’s blood returns to the body through the other arm.
The worst part of the process is five days of shots — a drug named filgrastim — required before donation day. The drug increases the body’s blood-forming cells and forces them to move from bone marrow to the bloodstream, from which they are harvested.
Filgrastim causes nausea and bone pain, Abshier said.
Be the Match pays for all travel and medical expenses related to donation. For more information, go to BetheMatch.org.
Today, a finger prick isn’t needed for a donor to be added to the worldwide registry. Be the Match uses cheek swabs instead.
As a self-employed hair stylist, Abshier was off work several days for both donations. Coupled with the temporary side effects of filgrastim, the process can be inconvenient.
“But it’s a very humbling experience,” Abshier said. “I am not here on this earth for just myself. I am here to save Laura and the gentleman I gave to as well.
“I was able to save someone’s life. How many people can say that?”
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, email@example.com