FORT KENT, Maine — It can take just a few moments to save a life.

People were lining up at the Fort Kent Knights of Columbus Hall on Tuesday afternoon to take those few moments and sign up for the national bone marrow registry.

Sponsored by the Maine Leukemia Foundation, the drive to register potential bone marrow donors came in response to the direct need of Madawaska native Carrie Dechaine who is undergoing treatment in Boston for acute myelogenous leukemia.

“I am just overwhelmed right now,” Joan Carrier, Dechaine’s mother, said Tuesday afternoon. “This is just magical. I feel like I am floating on top just watching this from above.”

Her 34-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the disease last summer and since then has received chemotherapy and related treatments.

Dechaine’s best chance, however, is a bone marrow transplant. Before that can happen, a suitable donor must be found.

“What a Christmas gift that would be,” Carrier said. “It would be better than winning the lottery because that’s just money and this is a life.”

Dechaine, the mother of two boys, has a consultation appointment with doctors at Tufts University next week, and family members hope good news will come from the doctor and donor registry.

Paul Greenier, who organizes donor registration drives for the Maine Leukemia Foundation, drove up to Fort Kent from North Monmouth for Tuesday’s event.

Greenier is all too familiar with Carrier’s situation. In 1993 his then 28-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.

“Someone in Denver came up that matched,” Greenier said. “She’s doing fine and it will be 15 years since her transplant this April, so I know if you can get a good match, it works.”

Fifteen years ago the national donor registry contained 1.2 million names. Today, Greenier said, more than 7 million are registered donors.

“That’s still not enough,” Greenier said. “There are 3,400 transplants done every year in this country, but there is a need for 10,000.”

Current methods for extracting donor marrow are far less intrusive than the old surgical procedure.

Instead, in many cases donors receive injections of a drug designed to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream.

The blood is then drawn and “spun out” to collect those blood-forming cells. The remaining blood goes back into the donor.

“The goal is to get a new immune system up and running,” Greenier said. “The donor is sharing that good part of themselves — the immune system —with someone.”

No one in Dechaine’s family was a match, and though her blood type is A positive, a suitable match need not be that type.

All the participants in Tuesday’s drive are now on the national donor registry.

One of those excited to sign on was Paula Charette of Fort Kent.

“Carrie’s the reason I came out today,” Charette said as she swabbed the inside of her cheek with a large Q-tip to collect sample DNA. “She’s one of those people you meet once or twice in a lifetime and is a really good friend.”

Charette first met Dechaine when she was teaching pharmacology through an adult education program.

“Carrie was a great student and is a really special person,” Charette said.

Charette said she has long wanted to be on the national marrow donor program and the drive in Fort Kent provided that opportunity.

“It’s a good thing to maybe be able to help other people,” she said. “It speaks a lot to what kind of person Carrie is that the drive is going on here.”

“By giving a little bit of yourself you can save someone else,” Greenier said.

The drive in Fort Kent was scheduled for 1-6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Maine Leukemia Foundation also is planning a two-day marrow registration drive Dec. 22 and 23 at the Bangor office of the American Red Cross on Hammond Street.


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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.