Former Newton bone marrow donor seeking match

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Jodi Hirsh (in black) and her family are seeking a stem cell donor for a transplant that could save her life. Once a bone marrow donor herself, she is fighting leukemia.

A few years ago, Newton resident Jodi Hirsh didn't struggle with the decision to become registered as a possible bone marrow donor.

"The best kind of giving is the kind that no one pays you back for," Hirsh said. 

At the time, there was a 9-year-oid girl who needed a transplant. Hirsch wanted to help and got registered. 

"I had a child about the same age," Hirsh said. "If that was my child, I would knock door to door to find a donor if I had to. I felt the desperation of that parent."

Her information was entered into a database, and a few months later she was contacted because there was a patient with whom she matched. In 2014, she donated her bone marrow to a teenager and gave him more time with his family. 

She had no second thoughts. 

But in a twist of fate, that experience was a kind of downpayment, and in 2021 she has found herself with the same need she met for someone else.

On Aug. 3, 2020, Hirsh was hospitalized and later diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

"There is never a good time to get leukemia, but this is probably the worst time," Hirsh said. 

COVID-19 created a barrier for her. When she needed treatment at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, it meant 50 days separated from friends and family. 

But she did get treatment — and for the moment, things are under control. 

"Now I am in remission, but I have some dangerous chromosomal mutations, which makes relapse almost a guarantee for me," Hirsh said. 

That means a transplant of stem cells — and time is of the essence. Doctors want to get the transplant done while she is in remission to improve her chance of survival.  

She has turned to the same group she registered with in 2014, DKMS. DKMS is an international nonprofit bone marrow donor center based in Tübingen, Germany, with entities in the U.S., United Kingdom, Chile, Poland and India.

DKMS is searching for a donor. So far, only one perfect match has been found — but that donor was out of the country. Hirsh is a 50% match with her sister, who could serve in a pinch. However, DKMS is searching for a better option. 

DKMS is the world's largest bone marrow donor center, with more than 10 million registered donors. Hirsh is hopeful that more will join the registry. 

"It is easy to join the registry," Hirsh said. "You can do it in your home and send it in. The procedure to donate is so simple."

For the protection of the population, DKMS has postponed all planned in-person drives and events for the registration of new blood stem cell and bone marrow donors, and the organization has created an online registration action. Through this virtual registration, the public can order a registration kit through DKMS.org that will be sent directly to their home. Individuals can easily perform the cheek swab themselves and mail the kit back to DKMS, so people can register as potential life-saving donors without leaving their homes.

Possible donors can sign up as donors on Hirsh's behalf via her virtual drive at https://dkmsgetinvolved.org/virtualDrive/jodi-hirsh.

According to DKMS, 70% of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers must rely on donors outside their families. Every nine minutes, an American dies of a blood cancer.

"I am going to do everything I can, everything in my control, to survive," Hirsh said. "One of the things you have to accept is that you really do not have control." 

Virtual RegistrationBlood cancer patients all over the world continue to urgently need our help. For many of these people, a blood stem cell or bone marrow donation from a matching donor is their only chance of survival. DKMS encourages everyone who is able to register now as a potential blood stem cell or bone marrow donor and to provide hope for patients worldwide.