Donors Come Out In Force For Mother
900-plus turnout was among most successful, officials say
By RAY DUCKLER
Oct 30, 2007
Nearly 1,000 people, many with Concord's Nicole Nelson on their minds, showed up to have their
cheeks swabbed Friday and Saturday at Concord Hospital, far more than expected for a bone
marrow donor drive.
The official tally was 971 people: 536 on Friday, 435 the next day. Those numbers could rise as
administrators continued to check through forms yesterday afternoon. It's one of the most successful
donor drives in recent memory, administrators said.
The drive, coordinated by two Concord Hospital workers with the help of a regional recruiter, was
held in the name of Nelson, 34, who suffers from aplastic anemia. The deadly disease prevents bone
marrow from producing red and white blood cells and platelets.
"That number is definitely better than normal, even for a patient-focused event," said Nicole Rubeira,
regional recruiter for the marrow donor program in Rhode Island. "This was fabulous. It was terrific."
Nelson, a physician's assistant at Concord Hospital, noticed bruising on her legs, arms and belly in
July. She was diagnosed with aplastic anemia last month, meaning she needed a bone marrow match
and transplant to save her life.
About 6,000 people nationally are waiting for bone marrow transplants. About 11 million are
registered as donors.
Nelson's family, including her sisters, didn't qualify. A preliminary search of the donor database,
normally good for about 100 matches, turned up five, including four people who live in Japan. But
ethnicity is the key to finding a match, and Nelson is of French, American Indian and Northern
Nelson's disappointment led to a series of bone marrow drives, planned by Annie Nason, a nurse
practitioner in critical care and pulmonary medicine, and Christine Falkenham, a physician services
Nason phoned the national donor office in Minneapolis and was redirected to Rubeira in Rhode
Island, which houses the closest center to Concord. Six donor drives were scheduled, including the
two last weekend at Concord Hospital.
Also planned are sessions Nov. 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Carlisle Place in Jefferson; Nov. 21 from
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Concord's Grappone Conference Center, held in conjunction with a Red Cross
blood drive; Nov. 27. from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Loudon Safety Building, sponsored by NASCAR; and
Nov. 28 from 1 to 6 p.m. at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough. A swab of the cheek will
determine if a person is a potential match.
Nason and Falkenham hoped for a large turnout last weekend and got their wish. A television station
turned out as well, spreading the message even farther.
"It was pretty mind boggling," Nason said. The TV station "wanted to interview a friend of (Nelson's)
and I asked one person. She looked like Nicole's age, and I asked her if she was a friend and she
said no. . . . Complete strangers came out to help her, which was emotional in that sense. It was a
truly altruistic sense."
Nelson heard about the large turnout from one of her sisters, who attended the donor drives both
days. She was told about a girl turning 18 Saturday who wanted to be there. The age range for
potential donors is 18 to 61.
"She came with friends and family and her ID as an 18-year-old," Nelson said. "That was the first
thing she wanted to do on her birthday."
Nelson was also told that a little boy showed up, bringing a hockey puck from his youth game and
giving it to the Nelson family, which also includes her husband, Rick, and 13-month-old Katie.
"There were a lot of stories of people coming to support us who don't know us," Nelson said. "It
certainly makes me feel more hopeful that we will find a match. It's been very difficult, but the support
of friends, family and strangers is heartening to see, how many people care and want to try to help."
Ray Duckler can be reached at email@example.com.