This story was updated with new information on Sept. 5, 2023.
PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — When Maureen Leuba was diagnosed with blood cancer 10 years ago, doctors gave her just a 20 percent chance at survival unless she matched with a stem cell donor.
Within three weeks, Leuba matched with a California college student, who donated her stem cells thus saving Leuba’s life. She has been in remission for a decade and now advocates for Be The Match, a stem cell registry that matches patients and donors all over the world.
“The reason I got involved with Be The Match is because I want to help give others the same second chance at life that I was given,” said Leuba.
But not everyone is as lucky.
Marsha Krone, a fellow Be The Match ambassador, has been searching for her stem cell match since she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2016. Doctors have told her she has less than a one percent chance of finding a match.
Now, both women are lobbying Congress to pass the bipartisan LEAVE Act, which would enable donors to take off work to donate time without worrying about job security. Leuba said 50 percent of matched donors don’t follow through with the process.
“The most viable donors come from the 18-24 age range, so you’re getting a lot of adults who are just getting out of college or what not, and might be worried about their job security. So we are hoping this act will get passed, so that people do not have to worry about taking time off in order to save a life,” she said.
The donor process including getting blood drawn, a thorough physical, and of course the stem cell transplant itself. The donor’s DNA is only used for matching with a patient in the Be The Match registry and never shared with anyone.
“It can add up to 40 nonconsecutive hours, so they need to be able to take that time off freely from work without worrying about losing their job,” said Leuba.
In early August, Leuba and Krone met with U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood while in Peoria to get his support for the bill.
“He’s been a big supporter of Be The Match. He’s just been wonderful. So we did talk to him about the lifesaving Leave Act a few weeks ago, hoping to gain his support and hopefully close sponsorship of this act so we can get this going,” said Leuba.
According to Be The Match, 70 percent of patients don’t match with any family members.
Leuba and Krone are supporting a local donor drive for Oskar, a sick 12-year-old boy who has been trying to match with a donor for more than two years. The event is on Sept. 12 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Castaways Bar & Grill in Chilicothe, hosted by Oskar’s mother and Castaways.
Go to www.bethematch.org or text PEORIAFORTHECURE to 61474 to learn more about joining the donor registry.