Last week I briefly introduced Christina Schnese and her organization Make It Happen USA. While I could go on and on about her story. I think it is best if she tells her story in her own words.
My name is Christina Schnese and I am proud to say I am a leukemia survivor and blood stem cell transplant survivor. These past three years of my cancer journey have been the most challenging but also the most eye opening experience of my life. There are doctors, nurses, hospital staff, an endless list of family and friends to thank. Above all there is one person I thank. There is a beautiful 23 year old woman named Dianne, who decided to donate life when she was only 20 years old. What a miracle, a young 20 year old giving unconditional love to a stranger! You see Dianne donated her blood stem cells to me. I am grateful, I am humbled and I am forever grateful.
How does one begin to describe this process called stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant to a stranger? How does one convey to them what an amazing, yet overwhelming journey it is not only for the patient but for the donor? How do you describe the joy it brings to BOTH the donor and the recipient?
Let’s start with Dianne, her side:
Her junior year of college she was walking back from classes with her roommates. They were approached by DKMS America representatives who explained that they were on campus looking for possible matching donors to help save cancer patients. They explained the cheek swab process and also explained the two ways to donate, the surgical and the non-surgical. Dianne, being of Hispanic descent, was told there was a 3% chance that she would match. Diane and her friends all signed up that day. She tells me she didn’t really think about it after that until a month later.
ONE MONTH later she received a call about a female patient who was fighting AML and she was asked if she was available. Dianne explained to us that it took her a while to respond because she had so many thoughts racing through her mind, but she agreed to the process.
When she told her family about it, they had many concerns. Dianne was born premature so her family has always been extra sensitive about her health. They agreed to have a family discussion about it. When Dianne returned to her home later that night she found her parents on the couch waiting for her. They said they had talked to a DKMS representative. They had been told the patient was the same age as Dianne’s mom. This brought it home for all of them. Dianne said she instantly thought, “What if this was my mom?” I am told they instantly knew, as a family, that becoming my donor was their journey. She told me the following in one of her letters, “I know it’s been a few years but that incredible feeling of being able to make a difference in someone’s life is still with me always and I remember like it was yesterday.”
I was diagnosed with leukemia on June 7th, 2010 after eight months of trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I was fatigued, my energy levels were low, exercise was impossible and I was throwing up everything that went in. I was hospitalized an hour later, and given 4 bags of blood over two days because all my blood counts were so low. I started chemo on day 3. I survived 38 days of induction and two follow up chemo rounds. I went septic after that. My family was told to come in, hold me and say good- bye. The doctors did not expect me to survive the night.
Also surviving the night after that and kept on surviving. Just call me blessed! After this strain on my body, my oncologist decided not to do the 4th round of chemo. He didn’t think my body was strong to live through the final chemo phase. We had known from the start that my leukemia had the inversion that would require a transplant to save my life. Since we were not going to do the 4th chemo round we were sent to the transplant team.
When we spoke with our transplant team, we were told that there was a 1% chance of finding a Hispanic donor for me. The doctors also explained the 50/50 survival rates of unrelated transplant patients. I cried for the second time since the diagnosis.
We went home and waited and waited and waited. One night, sitting in the back yard, my husband and I were still trying to make the decision, whether to move forward or not with the transplant. So we prayed. I still remember exactly what we said… “Dear God, we have walked down this journey presented to us with faith in your will. We are placing this burden in your hands. Please guide us in making the right decision.”
The next day, we received a call, not one but two donors had been found. One was 45 years old, one was 20 years old. My doctors decided they wanted Dianne’s stem cells because she had no children and no pregnancies.
Relief, joy, fear, shock, amazement, gratitude, anxiety…all of these emotions and more hit you at the same time. Most of all, we were amazed. A donor had been found! I had a chance!
The rest of this story is the battle to survive. I figured with everything that I had to live for and with this miracle that Dianne had given me, there was only one outcome. I was going to beat this. I would survive.
Now Dianne and I are like sisters. We met for the first time in July 2013. This was a very exciting time for our family and friends. If this is not enough joy in our lives, we have been blessed again. My son was chosen to be a donor for a 31 year old domestic woman. Jonathan completed his blood stem cell donation for her in October of 2013. We are excited to hopefully meet his recipient in two years. The full circle of life continues!
Last but not least, since I survived this cancer journey, I have a new calling. I have started a non for profit called Make It Happen USA.
- Our primary goal is to increase the bone marrow/ blood stem cell registry by 50,000.
- Is to help cancer patients that our going through this dramatic process alone. No one should go through cancer treatment alone.
- To improve the quality of life for both the cancer patients and their caregivers. It is with great pride that I take on this new challenge!
What can you do to help us achieve our goals?
- The easiest and the least expensive option, please allow us to have a donor drive at your location. It does not cost you a penny. We have partnered with many churches, high schools, recreation centers and athletic events. Only 2% of the US population is on the registry. Each year, thousands of blood cancer patients die because they cannot find a match in the registry. It takes one table, two chairs and some space in your establishment. We can even bring our own table and chairs if we need to. We do cheek swabs of anyone that wishes to sign up to be a donor. It takes 3 minutes per person. To be honest, we love doing the donor drives. Since our founding in March of 2014. We have already registered 3165 people as of July 23rd, 2014.
- You can volunteer your time, we have approximately 15 events per month and growing! If this option works for you, please call us. We will be happy to have you join our family. We travel extensively for some of our drives so we may be in an area near you soon!!!
- The final option is money. It costs us $65.00 for every person that we swab. We pay for that, not the potential donors. We also pay for some of the care that blood cancer patients with no insurance need.
If you are interested in one or all three of these please contact.
Make It Happen USA
25761 E. Orchard Dr , Aurora, Co 80016
I have spoken with Christina several times and feel this is a worth while cause. I hope that if your attending GATS you will take the time to stop by and meet Christina and her team of volunteers, and learn about the organization. Even if you choose not to register as a donor, please take the time to get informed and spread the word to your friends. It is my hope and prayer no one at the GATS show or their friends and family will need this registry. However if they do I am glad to know that many people drivers included will have taken the time to bring some hope to a person in a very dark time.
If you will be unable to attend GATS August 21-23, and wish to learn more about this group or becoming a donor. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as the contact information above for MakeItHappenUSA. Also if you are able to sponsor, or recommend an event such as a driver appreciation day at a terminal, truck show, or any other event. I encourage you to let Christina and her team know.