‘I’m Not Ready to Lose Her’

If ever a mother hoped for anything, Chris Wulff hopes for this: someone who could be the right bone-marrow donor for her only child, 32-year-old Sarah Parker — and is willing to help her.


Diagnosed in October with leukemia, Parker, of St. Joseph, is also the mother of three young daughters.
Wulff, of White Heath, said her daughter has been undergoing chemotherapy in Chicago and is handling her disease pretty well.
But, she added, “they’re having trouble finding a (donor) match for her.”


Diagnosed Oct. 19, Parker has a form of the disease called Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Wulff said.


She had a blood clot in one of her legs that wasn’t going away, but it was an eye doctor who eventually diagnosed her with leukemia.


She had blood tests in connection with a retinal hemorrhage, and the doctor called with the results and told her she needed to get to the hospital immediately, Wulff said.


Sarah, who is engaged to Nate Cremeens, had been a stay-at-home mom for the last year to her three daughters, Willow Hartsock, 10, Maya Cremeens, 5, and Allie Cremeens, 2, Wulff said.


She’d also been preparing for a new career. She’d participated in a medical-billing coding program at Parkland College and was set to undergo an internship when she became ill, but the college has told her she can still graduate after she comes back and does the internship later, her mother said.


“She is a real nice girl. She doesn’t know an enemy,” Wulff said. “And most of all, she loves her family and her friends.”
Lori Behrensmeyer of Champaign, a longtime friend of Wulff’s who has known Parker since she was 9 years old, said her cancer has been devastating to everyone.


“I watched her grow up and have her three little girls,” she said.


Behrensmeyer is helping organize a fundraiser for Parker set for 5 to 10 p.m. Jan. 26 at St. Joseph Middle School.
Carrie Webb, director of the marrow program for Community Blood Services of Illinois, said a successful bone-marrow transplant requires a matching donor, and many people are in need.


Each year, more than 10,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disease such as leukemia and lymphoma, and their best chance of a cure may be a marrow or umbilical-cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor, according to the Be the Match National Marrow Donor Program.


About 70 percent of patients who need transplants don’t have a matching donor in their families, the program said.
People inherit the factors they need for a marrow donor from their parents, so when someone needs a donor it more than likely requires a match from a person of the same heritage and race, Webb said.


That makes a match difficult from for someone like Sarah, who is biracial, or for anyone who is an underrepresented minority, she said.


Anyone interested in becoming a donor must be between ages 18 and 44 and in good health. The application process involves a health exam, paperwork and cheek swab, and potential donors are asked to call in advance before coming in, Webb said.
They should call the main Community Blood Services of Illinois number, 367-2202, and ask for marrow-donor staff.


People who wind up becoming donors for patients are warned they’ll need to take up to 40 hours off work, Webb said, but most donors are altruistic and realize their week off from work could save a life.


 If the volunteer isn’t a match for someone in immediate need, the information is kept on file for another potential patient later, she said.


About 75 percent of donations are collected via peripheral-blood-stem-cell donation.


A traditional bone-marrow harvest is performed only about one-fourth of the time through a surgical procedure, Webb said.
“I do believe, in Sarah’s case, her donor will need to do a peripheral-stem-cell donation,” she said. “Typically, the patient’s physician will determine what type of donation will yield the best results for the patient.”


Wulff said Sarah’s perfect match would be biracial, half black and half white.


She knows most people don’t realize the big need for marrow donors, but she hopes many will respond.
“She is so young,” Wulff says of her daughter. “I’m not ready to lose her.”

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