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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Local Family Braves Leukemia Challenge Together

Local Family Braves Leukemia Challenge Together:
Bone marrow drive Thursday, Aug. 11, 4:30pm-7:30pm, at Hagaman Memorial Library, 227 Main St., East Haven, seeks match
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 8/10)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wallingford, CT – It was an early February day – February 10, 2011, to be precise – and sixty-year-old Frank Iaccarino was on the job as a cable repair tech for AT&T. Just after 12:30, he touched base by phone with his wife of 38 years, Joan, mentioning that he was feeling better after complaining of tiredness and a headache the night before. However, an hour later, a co-worker on a job site walked over to his truck, where he had retreated to enjoy some lunch, and found him passed out. An ambulance rushed Frank to Mid-State Hospital in Meriden, where he was treated in the ER and admitted overnight. Joan, 61, and the couple’s twenty-three-year-old son, Matthew, joined him there. All thought he’d had a mild stroke.

Matthew and Joan left the hospital at 11:15pm, and returned to the family’s Wallingford home. At 12:30am, the hospital reached out by phone to say Frank was having a heart seizure and they were transporting him by LifeStar helicopter to Hartford Hospital. Matthew and Joan met them at the facility by car. Other complications revealed themselves and, over the course of a few days, multiple doctors determined that Frank had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), essentially cancer of the blood. 

“This came out of the blue for us,” Joan said, shocked by the diagnosis. Chemotherapy was the treatment advised. The family opted to bring him to Smilow Cancer Center, a part of Yale University, in New Haven.

Treatment began mid-February: two chemotherapy drugs per day for seven days. A bone marrow biopsy was then performed, to determine if the treatment had been effective. Frank’s cancer was found to be in remission.

“We did not feel exclusive with our situation, as there are so many other people in similar situations and facing dire challenges,” Joan said. “Still, we were thankful for that good news and cried tears of joy.”

Despite the news, Frank was kept in the hospital for observation “for a bit longer.” He came home, but had to go back in for another two weeks for a second, then a third, round of chemo, to be absolutely sure the disease had been eliminated.

Currently, Frank is scheduled to go for a fourth round of chemo, in approximately a month, according to Joan. “Because he seems to be doing well physically and bringing his good blood counts up, doctors will be doing a bone marrow transplant. We understand this is precautionary,” said Joah.

Frank is listed with a national organization called Be the Match, which is a bone marrow registry.  As of now, there is no match for him, so Joan, with the support of the Rhode Island Blood Center, has been holding drives to try and locate a match.

“We’ve done eight drives thus far, with the first held June 11 at North Haven Library, attracting 100 people,” Joan said. Explaining the process, she added, “People fill out a health questionnaire, then have the inside of their cheek swabbed. The swab is sent to a lab for testing to see if there’s a match. We’ve had several hundred potential donors come forward. Because no match has been determined yet, we continue to hold drives.”

Requirements of potential bone marrow donors include being between the ages of 18 and 60, and meeting certain medical guidelines. “You can’t be diabetic or taking insulin; you can’t have had any recent back surgery, or any past instance of cancer,” said Joan. “And it takes just 15 minutes to do the paperwork and for a swab to be collected.”

Joan mentioned that there’s an organization in Fall River, MA, called Michael’s Fund, which has been paying for the testing. “Normally, it cost $100 for a person to join the registry,” said Joan. “Because of their fundraising, the test is free.”

Governor Malloy recently signed a bill requiring individual and group health insurance providers to ensure coverage for bone marrow testing – it goes into effect in January 2012. To this regard, Joan said, “If we are still holding drives early next year, this will help the process.”

Thinking about all that has transpired, Joan remarked, “This has been a difficult time for our family. We have so much support from family and friends to help us get through things. We’ve been very prayerful and optimistic, and hope for the best.”

Joan added, “While these bone marrow drives have been first focused on Frank, they will ultimately help benefit many other cancer patients seeking a match, so there are benefits far beyond our situation. The Rhode Island Blood Center uses a memorable phrase: ‘You have the power to heal, the power to save a life. Take the first step, join the Registry.’ We truly believe in this as well, while taking life a day at a time.”

To join the Be the Match Registry:  or 1-800-MARROW-2.  If you are unable to make a drive, you will be instructed on how to help in your specific area.

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