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RELAY FOR LIFE: School volunteer needs bone marrow transplant

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Volunteering is a way of life for 40-year-old Dwayne Bell of Buffalo. Everyone at Abraham Lincoln Elementary knows Mr. Bell. Whether he is helping Cynthia Patterson, ALES librarian, organize and work the two annual book fairs or reading with one of the many children assigned to him for LaRue County Reads, he is considered to be a regular at the school. But now Mr. Bell needs a volunteer. He needs a bone marrow transplant donor.

His journey began in May 1998 when he was 26. He was originally diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition where bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. After several rounds of chemotherapy, Dwayne considered himself healthy and all was well until another relapse in 2004 when he was officially diagnosed with leukemia. He persevered with more chemotherapy and then went on with his life with wife, Amy, and sons Damon and Dalton.

Unable to be in the regular workforce, Dwayne found his calling by volunteering at the school several days a week. His tall, lanky figure and good nature made him an instant hit with the children.

Second grade teacher, Heather Hynes, said her class has pretty much adopted Dwayne. He even has a "cubbie" for storing his jacket. She fondly remembers a story from a few years ago when the class size grew to the point of no additional cubbies and one student, Victor Helm, readily volunteered to share his space with him. A regular reader in the class with several of Mrs. Hynes’ students, Dwayne even stops by for the 100-day party or other holiday celebrations.

Then last August, while having one of his regular checkups at James Graham Brown Cancer Center, his doctors told him his body was no longer making the cells he needed for a quality life. As Dwayne puts it, "This time it's all or nothing. I am out of options." Dwayne must have a bone marrow transplant.

Since the school received the news, Family Resource Coordinator Machelle Durham has been searching for ways to assist Dwayne. Her first step was to send an email to the entire school district explaining Dwayne's circumstances and encouraging them to visit the website www.bethematch.org where they could find out about being a bone marrow donor. 

Several staff members including Allison McDowell, former teacher of Bell's son, Dalton, applied for a donor kit. She received her packet last week where she swabbed her mouth and sent the sample back to be a part of the donor registry.  McDowell, who knows first-hand about the importance of donation as her father needed a heart transplant in 1990, knew this was something she could do.

"I may not be a match for Dwayne, but I have to try. If not him, maybe someone else."

Family members have already been tested for Dwayne, but according to the website, about 70 percent of the bone marrow recipients do not have relative donor and if donors are between the ages of 18 and 44 they are 10 times more likely to be called to donate.

Bone marrow transplants are thought to be a painful process, but the website notes the opposite. It is a surgical procedure, but a general anesthesia is used and donors feel no pain during the needle injection or extraction with the special hollow needle. Donors may feel some pain in the lower back for a few days after the extraction, but those who have donated say it is a small price to pay for giving another person a chance at life.

Dwayne has been on the National Donor Registry for about six weeks and is still waiting for his life changing phone call saying he has a match. He says his strong faith and belief that he will get the call any day now keeps him going. Could his match be right here in LaRue County? Check out www.bethematch.org or call 1-800-marrow2 (1-800-627-7692).