Mansfield woman spreads word on bone marrow donation

Several years ago, Sarah Hergenrother signed up to be a bone marrow donor in Fort Worth without ever knowing whether she would be a match for someone.

At the same time, hundreds of miles away in New York, Lauren Macri had just learned that she had a rare blood disease.

The coincidence has not been lost on the two women. They met for the first time a year after Macri, 22, underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2006 from an unknown donor she later learned was Hergenrother.

"When we figured out that when she was getting sick, I was signing up, we couldn't believe it," said Hergenrother, who lives in Mansfield. "It's really one of those kind of miracle things."

For Macri, a match the same year she fell ill was lifesaving.

"It doesn't work like that for a lot of people," she said. "I feel like it was just meant to be."

Since then, Hergenrother has become a vocal advocate for bone marrow donation. She went to Washington last month to urge Congress to increase federal funding for the national registry of adult donors and publicly available cord blood. She joined more than 60 donors, transplant recipients and families from 25 states who met with lawmakers.

Support expires this year for the National Cord Blood Inventory and the C.W. Bill Young Transplantation Program. It must be reauthorized to meet an increased need for transplants, according to Be the Match Registry, which serves as the national registry.

The registry has asked for $50 million over the next five years. An additional $30 million has been requested for the National Cord Blood Inventory.

More bone marrow donors are desperately needed, Hergenrother said.

Every year, 12,000 patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood disorders search the registry for bone marrow donors or for cord blood.

Hergenrother, a special-education teacher, became a donor in 2006 and has never regretted the experience, which required an outpatient procedure to remove the marrow.

She was at her church and noticed a donor drive. "Why not get involved?" she thought. Six months later, she got the call that her marrow matched with someone in desperate need of a transplant and did not hesitate to undergo the procedure.

"I was sore for a couple of days, but just to know I could possibly save someone's life was the greatest feeling in the world," she said.

The two women were not allowed to contact each other for a year and then only if both agreed. After a year, they began e-mailing each other, and a friendship evolved. In 2008, while on vacation in New York, Hergenrother met Macri.

This summer, Hergenrother plans to return to New York for Macri's wedding. It's a day that Macri thought she might never see in 2006, when she learned that she had hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a life-threatening disease. A bone marrow transplant offers the only possible answer.

Macri is cured and starting a new life in more ways than one. Besides getting married, she left a career in accounting to return to school and become a teacher. None of that would have been possible without Hergenrother, she said.

Hergenrother said donating marrow is a no-brainer; it's just the right thing to do.

Macri said she will always be grateful. "I believe she is my guardian angel," she said.

JAN JARVIS, 817-390-7664