'90-Day Donor Challenge' encourages people to join bone marrow registry

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There is a big push happening in Baton Rouge to try to get more people put into the bone marrow registry because the next person to sign up could be the one to save a life.

It was a typical Sunday afternoon at the Page home. Mom, dad and the four kids were all outside. They were cleaning the pool, feeding the pig and goats, and making sure the chickens have what they need. Then, it was time for some fun. They flew around the yard on a scooter, as dad got something going on the grill. There was also some trampoline time with the pooch. It was all family time and it is precious because time may be running out.

"I may not be here before you know it," Phil Page said. "And, I want you to make sure that you know that I love you and care for you."

Instead of time out back, Page has been spending a lot of time at Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge and at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. In January, Page was diagnosed with aplastic anemia.

"The body actually recognizes the bone marrow cells as being foreign and has fought off against those cells and actually destroyed his bone marrow," Dr. Vince Cataldo, a hematologist, said.

Bone marrow is the place in the body where blood cells are produced. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body, while white blood cells fight off infection and platelets that clot the blood to stop one from bleeding all come from bone marrow. None of that is working for Page.

Shortly after his diagnosis, he was accepted into a clinical trial at the NIH. A special horse serum had shown promise in some patients, but it didn't work for him. A bone marrow transplant is now the only thing that can cure him. Still, his sense of humor allowed him to talk about what was going on. He blogged about it, in fact. There is a funny story behind that blog of his.

"One of my nephews, when he heard that I had a bone marrow disease, he turned to his mom and said, 'Mom, what's wrong with Uncle Phil's bone marinara?'"

So, "Bone Marinara" was born as a way for Page to keep everyone updated on his condition, but it also, hopefully, served as a way to get people involved in the bone marrow registry. Because only 30 percent of people can find a suitable match for bone marrow in their family, the registry can be a lifesaver, if they can find a match there. There are only 23 million people registered globally. It became Page's mission to fight to save others, while waging his own battle to stay alive. He decided to fight to get people registered.

"That's what a good friend of mine said. He says, 'I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing it for everybody else,'" Page explained.

He fights every day and quite literally wears that way of life now. It is a fight. It is a struggle. It is overwhelming. However, Page did not once go down that 'Why me?' road.

"I did not spend time on that because I think that's one of the first paths to the depression, the fear, the anxiety," Page added.

He has far too much to live for to focus on those other things.

"I also think about my kids and making sure that they're taken care of and I have the best wife in the world. It's a great support system. She's been with me for this entire ordeal," Page said.

He visits Mary Bird Perkins to get blood transfusions. Without a bone marrow match, they are the only things keeping him alive right now. However, home is where he wants to be and he wants to be there with his family, which is dealing with an uncertain future.

"We know the odds aren't that good, but like I said, there's a purpose for this and I'm going to keep fighting through it and whatever the outcome, it's going to be a positive," Page explained.

There is a lot of fight in that family and in Phil Page. There are many others like him who are fighting to live and it is so easy to help. There is a big push in the Capitol Area that is headed up by Mayor Kip Holden to get people on that registry. It is called the "90-Day Donor Challenge." All it takes is a few minutes and a cotton swab.

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