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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 25, 2006

Participants To 'Celebrate Life' At Transplant Reunion

Approximately 400 patients who have received a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant, their families and caregivers will attend the ninth annual Celebrating Life Reunion from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Quality Inn & Suites at 2525 N. Dodge St. in Iowa City.

One highlight of the celebration will occur when a recipient and the donor who helped save his life meet for the first time.

Chad Farner, 46, teaches sixth-grade science and math at Oskaloosa Middle School in Oskaloosa, Iowa. In early December 2004, Chad decided to give blood at an Oskaloosa High School Blood Drive. He was told his blood counts were out of normal range and was encouraged to see his physician. After Christmas, Farner received a bone marrow biopsy in Des Moines and learned that he had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). He then learned that a marrow transplant would give him his best chance to survive. Family members were tested but none shared his tissue type. His fate now rested on the kindness of a stranger.

Tom Schaefer, 37, of Neosho, Wis., 16 years ago heard about a high school girl with aplastic anemia who lived in a neighboring community and was in a search for a matched, unrelated donor. Schaefer went to the donor drive and registered with the National Marrow Donor Program and became part of the national registry.   Although he wasn't a match for this girl, he was called several times over the years and tested as a potential match for other patients in need. In February of 2005 he said "yes" again to donor testing. He didn't know it at the time, but he would be a perfect tissue type match for Chad Farner. 

There are other similarities. Schaefer teaches 5th-8th grade social studies at Saylesville School in Rubicon, Wis. He has donated blood since high school. He and his wife, Amy, have three daughters and are expecting their fourth child in late October. The Schafer family also faces health challenges. Their oldest and youngest girls were diagnosed with primary hyperoxaluria, a rare genetic liver disorder that is characterized by an overproduction of a substance called oxalate. This condition can lead to kidney stones, kidney failure or other organ damage. They visit Mayo Clinic twice a year for close monitoring.

On April 15, 2005, Farner was admitted to the Adult Blood & Marrow Transplant Unit at UI Hospitals and Clinics to prepare for an unrelated marrow transplant. On April 21, 2005, Schaefer entered a hospital in Milwaukee, Wis. and donated his marrow in the hopes of saving a life. Next Friday - Oct. 27, 2006 - Farner and Schaefer will come face to face for the first time at the Celebrating Life Reunion.

The Blood and Marrow Transplantation Programs at UI Hospitals and Clinics and the Iowa Marrow Donor Program are sponsoring the reunion. Specialists at UI Hospitals and Clinics performed the first marrow transplant there in 1980. Since then, more than 1,700 people have received transplants there. The unit currently transplants more than 75 people each year.

Roger Gingrich, M.D., Ph.D., directs the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Programs and serves as associate director for clinical affairs in Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. "As a transplant team, our goal is to restore people back to their lives," Gingrich said. "When patients come and stay with us for their transplants, we see them at their most vulnerable. At our Celebrating Life Reunion, we meet again in the arena of renewed life."

Colleen Reardon Chapleau, director of the Iowa Marrow Donor Program, added, "This event is a true celebration of the spirit. We share stories, triumphs and challenges. What stands out each year is the message of hope embodied in the courageous people who have fought cancer and who now give back to help others."

People in need of a blood stem cell transplant are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease such as leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia. A blood stem cell transplant involves the use of high doses of anticancer drugs or radiation to destroy the patient's diseased marrow and then giving the patient healthy blood stem cells as a replacement. In an autologous transplant, the patient's own blood stem cells are harvested, possibly treated, and then transplanted. In an allogenic transplant, another person donates the healthy marrow or blood stem cells.

Each year, more than 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with diseases treatable by a blood stem cell transplant. Of the patients needing to receive healthy blood stem cells from someone else, only 30 percent have a suitable family match, leaving the remaining 70 percent to rely on unrelated donors.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The welcome and opening remarks will occur at 2 p.m. The featured recipient and donor will meet between 3-3:30 p.m. For assistance in covering this event, contact Tom Moore at 319-356-3945.

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room E110 GH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,