Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys, TeamConnor promoting marrow donor drive at The Star

Malena Brown, who has chronic myeloid leukemia, and father Gary Brown are involved with TeamConnor and Saturday’s marrow donor drive at The Star in Frisco. Gary Brown is running backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
Malena Brown, who has chronic myeloid leukemia, and father Gary Brown are involved with TeamConnor and Saturday’s marrow donor drive at The Star in Frisco. Gary Brown is running backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Special to the Star-Telegram

Life is always bigger than sports.

And one of the giants in sports is trying to help impact lives.

Thousands of people are diagnosed every year with blood cancer and blood diseases and need a marrow transplant to survive. Cancer is the number one disease killer of children.

The Dallas Cowboys are partnering with TeamConnor Childhood Cancer Foundation, Be the Match and Children’s Health for the Be a Star, Save a Life marrow donor drive 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at The Star in Frisco.

Marrow is soft, fatty vascular tissue in the inner cavities of bones that is a major site of blood cell production.

TeamConnor founder Joy Cruse said Kim Brown, the wife of Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown, was instrumental in getting the Cowboys involved in the marrow drive. The Browns’ daughter Malena has chronic myeloid leukemia. Cruse said Malena is currently in remission, but someday might need a marrow transplant.

“We did an event for the Cowboys wives. They have a foundation. They came to it and we met Kim Brown and her daughter Malena. My son (Connor) had neuroblastoma. We really hit it off with a good conversation,” Cruse said. “They wanted to get involved with TeamConnor. Malena is a senior in high school and very well-spoken. She has been kind of a spokesperson for us. Lovely, lovely woman. This is kind of always been on her heart to do these bone marrow registries and help, maybe ultimately herself, but also others.

“This is kind of a natural fit to join in with the Cowboys in this way.”

TeamConnor’s namesake is Joy Cruse’s late son, Connor, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 4 and died at age 8 in 2009.

“He actually got a second cancer from the radiation treatment. That is why TeamConnor exists, to help us find better treatments and a cure,” Cruse said. “There just aren’t a lot of great treatments out there for kids.

“That’s why we continue to fight so these other kids can have a different ending.”

Cruse hopes to have “a couple of thousand” people register Saturday.

“We’ve never done one off-site. Children’s Medical Center has them,” Cruse said. “This will be the first time doing something of this magnitude. Hopefully, it’ll turn out pretty well.”

Joining the registry requires a sample of cells, collected by swabbing the inside of the cheek. Be The Match Registry keeps this sample to compare specific protein markers, called HLA markers, with markers of patients who need a marrow transplant. Doctors search the registry to find donors with HLA markers that match those of their patients.

“It’s easy. It takes a few seconds to swab your mouth and you’re done,” Cruse said. “It’s painless.”

A few years ago, joining the registry required taking blood, but no longer.

“I did it when Connor was in the hospital. It was the year before they switched to swabbing,” Cruse said. “People are hesitant because they think it involves needles. It doesn’t.”

To be eligible for the marrow drive, donors must be between 18 and 44 years old and commit to donating to any patient in need. You’ll be listed on the registry until you’re 61, unless you request to be removed from future searches.

If you match a patient in need, there are two ways to donate.

One way is called a PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) donation. It involves a non-surgical, outpatient procedure called apheresis. The donor receives a drug for five days prior to donation that increases the number of cells in the bloodstream. The cells are then collected during donation. Donors are typically back to their daily routine in one to two days.

A second way is via marrow donation. It is a surgical, outpatient procedure that takes place under anesthesia in a hospital operating room. While the donor is under, doctors collect marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. Donors are typically back to their daily routine within two to seven days.

The patient’s doctor will choose the donation method best for the patient.

“In exchange for giving a life, it’s a pretty easy process,” Cruse said.

TeamConnor hosts events throughout the year to raise funds for childhood cancer research.

“Just giving a little bit of your time can save a life. It’s an easy process,” Cruse said. “I think people misunderstand and think it’s really a hard process and it’s hard to be on the registry.

“When you know how easy it is, then it’s kind of like why wouldn’t you?”