Funding for bone marrow registry at risk

SEATTLE -- Kim Christensen of Longview nearly lost her life at age 16 when she was diagnosed with a type of leukemia that can only be cured with a bone marrow transplant. Now, she is traveling to Washington, D.C. in hopes of convincing congress to continue funding an organization that helps match bone marrow donors and recipients.

In 2009, Christensen was in high school when she started struggling with leg pain and fatigue. Soon after, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Her only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant.

Christensen's only sister was not a match, so she had to find a donor on the National Bone Marrow Registry. Be The Match, a nonprofit that connects patients with marrow or umbilical cord donors, found her two.

"My mom and I were so excited," Christensen said. "It was a blessing. I felt that God was watching over me and my family."

Federal funding for Be The Match could be cut by 8.2 percent, or $3 million, due to sequestration. Chad Ramsey, legislative relations director for Be The Match, said funding is needed to test potential donors and best match them to recipients. The budget cuts will lead to 20,000 fewer donors in the registry and 1,000 fewer umbilical cord donations.

Currently, Ramsey says there are more willing donors that want to join the registry than the organization can afford to test.

"We run out of money every year to type new donors," Ramsey said. "It's hard to keep up with all the people who want to join. We need the continued support from congress."

Christensen, who has been cancer-free for four years, will make her trip later this month to urge continued federal support and funding for the organization that helped her years ago.

"Be The Match saved my life," she said. "I'll be rooting for them to keep the funds."

Seventy percent of people who need a bone marrow or umbilical cord transplant do not have an adequate donor in their own family and depend on the Be The Match registry. Since 1996, the organization has facilitated 2,327 transplants in Washington.