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Match for a Lifetime

May 13, 2010 By:
Frank Rosci, JE Feature
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Joyce Rettig and her daughter Jackie, and Marc Boxbaum (below), swab their cheeks with cotton swabs at Sunday's drive to find a compatible bone-marrow donor for Sandee Crespy Kline.
Sandee Kline, who has acute nonlymphocytic leukemia, needs a miracle -- and she needs it now.

To that end, the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr earlier this month sponsored a daylong drive to find a bone-marrow match and donor for the 57-year-old wife, mother and grandmother.

Word of the event spread like wildfire, and by the end of a recent Sunday, some 310 people had passed through the school's dining room to be tested to see if they would be the one to help save her life.

The Barrack event was the first of a slew of community events that have not only sought a match for Kline, but have also helped raise awareness of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based international donor registry.

Kline was diagnosed with leukemia 19 years ago, when her platelet count was high, according to her husband, Mitch Kline. At that time, she began using a drug commonly called hydrea, and while it worked, it was explained that there was a 5 percent chance the leukemia could return within 20 years.

"Here we are, 19 years later, and that slim 5 percent has come true. It's hard to believe but it's happened," he said.

Kline's best chance of finding a genetically matched donor lies with people of mixed Sephardic/Ashkenazi background, since tissue type is inherited, according to the Gift of Life.

Kline, who has been hospitalized at Abington Hospital for three months, was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.

"This means everything to me because I need a donor. I can't believe the response from within the Jewish community and outside it, too," she said from her bed in the intensive-care unit two days before the May 2 event at Barrack.

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack, but all it takes is one match," said Mitch Kline, who works at Barrack as a health and physical-education teacher. They have been married for 36 years. They have three children and two grandchildren. He called his wife "an amazing person with strong spirit and tremendous courage, who has fought with everything she has against this horrible disease."

Gift of Life donated 500 test kits for the drive at Barrack. Wawa Convenience Stores in Wawa, Pa., where Kline works as an accountant, donated an additional 250 kits.

The way it works is that within each swab, technicians look for six specific markers. A perfect match is six for six. If that is found, then each person who qualified will be called back for a blood test. Within the blood work, 10 markers are sought, 10-for-10 being a perfect match.

While 10 is ideal, the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, where Kline would have the transplant, will perform it if just nine of 10 markers are found, said her husband. However, she must be in either full or partial remission for that.

Among the potential donors at Barrack was Josh Levin, 32, of Conshohocken.

"Coming here today was no inconvenience at all, but, even if it had been, I was willing to be inconvenienced to help when you consider that something as simple as being swabbed could lead to saving someone's life."

Two other potential donors were Mark, 50, and Karina Wolfson, 46, of Cherry Hill, N.J.

"I had announced it at our synagogue Congregation Mikveh Israel. We wanted to do the compassionate thing, so we came as did other people from the synagogue," said Mark Wolfson.

"We're doing this for Sandee now, but by building the Jewish registry, this drive will save someone else's life somewhere in the world," said her brother, Scott Crespy.

Since May 2, at least eight other Jewish organizations, including synagogues and businesses, have offered their premises for swabbing drives.

Another drive is scheduled at Congregation Mikveh Israel in Center City on Sunday, May 16, and at Or Hadash Synagogue in Fort Washington on May 23.

Even if these testings prove unfruitful for Kline, people who are tested automatically go into the Gift of Life registry (1-800-9MARROW; www.giftoflife.org).

Another possibility for finding a match is Ezer Mizion, the bone-marrow registry in Israel.

Said Mitch Kline: "We must look at every possible source because Sandee is running out of time."

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