Michael Mister, an Orioles fan living in Bellefonte, Pa., is using his love of baseball and penchant for attending minor league games to help those battling leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood cancers that require bone marrow transplants.
When Mister found out that Lynn Marie McManus of Greensboro, N.C., the wife of his former Marine Corps buddy Jim McManus, was stricken with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant, he wanted to help. Lynn Marie had been in and out of the hospital, but was having difficulty locating a donor. Mister's first inclination was to see if he was a match, or if he could donate to help another person in need, but that wasn't possible.
"I wanted to do something to help, but I can't donate because I've had a hip replacement," said Mister, who works at the Glen O. Hawbaker quarry in Bellefonte. "Deletebloodcancer.org told me another way I could help was to set up donor drives, to make people more aware of how they can help. So that's what I'm doing."
Though he can't see the Orioles on a regular basis, Mister can often be found at minor league ballparks near his Pennsylvania home, especially when O's affiliates are the visiting team. So he started contacting minor league clubs to see if he could set up in-stadium events so he could register potential donors and spread the word about the need for bone marrow donors.
He recently held his first event at SpikesFest, the winter gathering of the short-season Single-A State College Spikes, a Cardinals affiliate in the New York-Penn League. Three more donor nights have been scheduled for the 2014 season: June 29 at Ripken Stadium, home of the Orioles' short-season Single-A affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds; July 20 at Peoples Natural Gas Field, home of the Double-A Altoona Curve, a Pirates farm club; and Aug. 9 at Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys, an Orioles affiliate.
On those nights, fans in attendance can register to become a donor and have a DNA swab taken of the inside of their cheek. The whole process - which starts with a brief medical questionnaire - takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. The process is the same one fans of "CSI" or "Law and Order: SVU" are familiar with, with a quick swab being collected, then sent to a lab to be categorized to determine if you're a potential donor for someone already registered in the U.S. database. There's no cost to the potential donor, as fundraisers and donations offset the $65 cost.
Monetary donations will be accepted, and 50/50 raffles will be at all minor league collection events. It's possible more donor nights could be scheduled at other minor league ballparks in the mid-Atlantic.
Additionally, Mister will set up shop on the main concourse at Camden Yards on Aug. 2 while the Orioles play the Mariners, when he will distribute information and answer questions. Testing, however, will not be done at this event.
DeleteBloodCancer.org estimates that thousands of patients with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases need to find matching bone marrow donors who can save their lives. Patients need donors who are a close genetic match, but even with a registry of millions, six out of 10 patients never receive the lifesaving transplant they need.
Mister said the test run at SpikesFest was a learning process, and he's working to improve signage for this summer's collection events. But he's still fighting misconceptions about the process people have to go through to determine if they're a potential donor.
"The biggest misconception is that people have to get the big, painful needle in their back - that's the nightmare story everyone's heard," he said. "But all it takes is a quick swab that could save someone's life. ... People don't realize bone marrow donors are needed as much as they are, or how simple it is to be tested to see if you're a match to donate."
Since Mister started organizing bone marrow donor drives, Lynn Marie McManus has been matched with a donor and has a transplant scheduled for early March. But the knowledge that so many patients don't have such positive outcomes keeps Mister motivated.
"This is something you can be dealing with every day and not think anything is wrong," he said. "We call it a silent killer. My fiance's parents died of cancer. I have a good friend whose son has cerebral palsy, and to see the things he goes through has tuned me into the fact that many people have issues they deal with that need to be addressed. (Lynn Marie) is taken care of, but there are still a lot of people that need to be taken care of, and this is one way to try to make that happen."
For more information on the bone marrow donor drives being held at Frederick or Aberdeen, or the informational event scheduled for Camden Yards, email Mister at MichaelMister68@yahoo.com. To read frequently asked questions about bone marrow collection and donation, click here. Check out the Detele Blood Cancer Facebook page here.