Curry Cates is spending the first days of 2017 trying to save a life thousands of miles and an ocean away.
The 20-year-old Oxford native and Auburn University junior will spend about eight hours in a northern Virginia clinic today as his blood is pumped through a machine to separate life-saving peripheral blood stem cells to be sent to a cancer patient.
Cates, speaking by phone from Washington D.C. on Monday, said he doesn’t know much about the recipient, other than he’s 23, lives in Paris, France, and has acute myelogenous leukemia, an aggressive form of blood cancer. Patient privacy laws in France are strict, Cates said.
But Cates knows that whoever he is, without the donation of those blood-forming cells, the same found in bone marrow, the man nearly his age and living across the Atlantic, could die.
It was during his freshman year at Auburn that Cates signed up through the Be the Match Registry, the worldwide stem cell registry program run by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit National Marrow Donor Program.
What used to be known as a bone marrow transplant is now called a hematopoietic stem cell transplant and is a common treatment for certain cancers, such as leukemia and multiple myeloma. Since 1987 the program has arranged more than 74,000 marrow and cord blood transplants.
A swab of saliva taken from Cates was tested by Be The Match workers when he signed up. In 2016 he received a call that he was a possible match.
Cates had blood work done and a physical, and in the first week of December — finals week — he got a call at Auburn that he was a match.
Of those registered through the National Marrow Donor Program, it’s rare to find a needed match. Less than one quarter of one percent of all of those registered are selected to donate.
Cates and a friend from Auburn, Alex Patrick, flew to Washington D.C. on New Year’s Eve. Cates would need an injection each morning for five days to boost his blood stem cells before today’s procedure.
While his fellow students celebrated the new year back in Auburn, Cates and Patrick watched a fireworks show twenty minutes south of the capital in Alexandria, Va.
Cates said he didn’t mind being away from Auburn on New Year’s Eve, because going through the process of trying to save another’s life is “something that I’ll remember forever.”
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