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updated: 8/14/2012 5:54 AM

Bone marrow drives are real life savers

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Matthew Devine's family continues to collect toys, to advance his goal of paying forward the pediatric oncology units that care for him.

But a second ideal of "Matthew's Mission" is to encourage people to learn about lifesaving bone marrow transplants and the chance to save a life by being tested and listed on a bone marrow donor registry, such as Be The Match.

"So many people are not aware of how to do it," Sue Ellen Burlini says. "Testing is simply a swab with a Q-tip in the inner cheek."

In Matthew's case, the family turned to an unrelated donor, found on a donor registry, for his first bone marrow transplant.

"Many people asked why (Matthew's mother) was not chosen in the first place," Burlini says. "A parent is only a 50 percent match for his or her child -- never more than that -- and those are not good odds."

After two failed bone marrow transplants, doctors turned to Matthew's mother, Jennifer, for her marrow, which turned out to be a 50 percent match. It worked and he continues to thrive today.

Officials with Be The Match say 70 percent of people do not have a donor in their family and depend on donor registries to find an unrelated match to save their life. The Devine and Burlini families passionately lobby for more donors to be added to registries, to help increase the odds for other patients.

Since Be The Match began in 1987, they have facilitated more than 50,000 transplants, at a rate of more than 5,500 transplants a year.

In Matthew's case, his family organized multiple donor testing drives and while none of those turned up a match for Matthew, they have heard of two successful transplants as a result of their efforts.

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