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Heidi Schmidt was inspired to combine a bone marrow donor drive with next week's Memorial Blood Services drive to save the lives of people like her father, Lynn Schmidt, who suffer from leukemia. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Father's diagnosis with leukemia spurs daughter's marrow donor drive

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For the last 30 or more years, 59-year-old Lynn Schmidt of Bemidji has donated blood at the local Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank two or three times a year.

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Schmidt donated last summer, as usual, and all was well. But, when he returned in September to make another donation, the mini-physical exam prior to the blood draw indicated low hemoglobin levels. Further medical checking revealed that he had developed acute myeloid leukemia.

In addition to regularly donating blood, Schmidt became a bone marrow donor in 1988 to save his sister, who also developed a form of leukemia. He was called again in November for a stranger bone marrow donation, but he had to decline.

"He needed a donor himself," said Heidi Schmidt, Lynn's daughter.

Heidi, a licensed practical nurse at Neilson Place, organized a marrow donor drive to go along with the semiannual Memorial Blood Services drive scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, April 11-12.

"This was the perfect vehicle," said Rob Belanger, director of the laboratory at the hospital. "The fact that he caught this (leukemia) on a routine screening was great."

"That's why I keep harping on everybody to donate blood," Lynn said.

Lynn said he now is in remission awaiting a bone marrow transplant from a matching donor.

Heidi said she wanted to help her father, perhaps with a fundraiser, but he said insurance has been good to him and he does not need money.

"What he needs is a match," she said.

The procedure to volunteer as a bone marrow donor is simple and involves submitting a mouth swab. Donors must be in overall good health and between the ages of 18 and 60. Donors must be willing to donate to anyone, not just to someone they know. They can also cancel their membership in the bone marrow registry at any time.

The blood and bone marrow donor drives are scheduled noon to 4 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at the front entrance of Sanford Bemidji Medical Center and in education rooms. Walk-ins are welcome.

If a person is called as a match - about one in 200 are called - about 30 percent of marrow donation requires general anesthetic with a surgeon drawing the marrow from the pelvic bones. But most people donate by apheresis, which removes the blood forming cells from the blood with no anesthetic required.

"It's much less invasive; it's non-surgical," Heidi said.

She said many potential marrow donors do not think about the need until someone in their circle develops leukemia. They also fail to consider that they might need a matching donor someday themselves. While all donors are important, she said the American Indian population, which comprises a large majority of Bemidji area resident, is much underrepresented in the donor registry.

"I figure, if you can save a life, why not, even if it's a stranger," Heidi said.

Y mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

For the last 30 or more years, 59-year-old Lynn Schmidt of Bemidji has donated blood at the local Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank two or three times a year.

Schmidt donated last summer, as usual, and all was well. But, when he returned in September to make another donation, the mini-physical exam prior to the blood draw indicated low hemoglobin levels. Further medical checking revealed that he had developed acute myeloid leukemia.

In addition to regularly donating blood, Schmidt became a bone marrow donor in 1988 to save his sister, who also developed a form of leukemia. He was called again in November for a stranger bone marrow donation, but he had to decline.

"He needed a donor himself," said Heidi Schmidt, Lynn's daughter.

Heidi, a licensed practical nurse at Neilson Place, organized a marrow donor drive to go along with the semiannual Memorial Blood Services drive scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, April 11-12.

"This was the perfect vehicle," said Rob Belanger, director of the laboratory at the hospital. "The fact that he caught this (leukemia) on a routine screening was great."

"That's why I keep harping on everybody to donate blood," Lynn said.

Lynn said he now is in remission awaiting a bone marrow transplant from a matching donor.

Heidi said she wanted to help her father, perhaps with a fundraiser, but he said insurance has been good to him and he does not need money.

"What he needs is a match," she said.

The procedure to volunteer as a bone marrow donor is simple and involves submitting a mouth swab. Donors must be in overall good health and between the ages of 18 and 60. Donors must be willing to donate to anyone, not just to someone they know. They can also cancel their membership in the bone marrow registry at any time.

The blood and bone marrow donor drives are scheduled noon to 4 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at the front entrance of Sanford Bemidji Medical Center and in education rooms. Walk-ins are welcome.

If a person is called as a match - about one in 200 are called - about 30 percent of marrow donation requires general anesthetic with a surgeon drawing the marrow from the pelvic bones. But most people donate by apheresis, which removes the blood forming cells from the blood with no anesthetic required.

"It's much less invasive; it's non-surgical," Heidi said.

She said many potential marrow donors do not think about the need until someone in their circle develops leukemia. They also fail to consider that they might need a matching donor someday themselves. While all donors are important, she said the American Indian population, which comprises a large majority of Bemidji area resident, is much underrepresented in the donor registry.

"I figure, if you can save a life, why not, even if it's a stranger," Heidi said.

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

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