Family, friends of Summit County man whose stem cell transplant saved his life gather to celebrate recovery, raise awareness
Summit Daily News
A year after Summit County resident John Melott received a stem cell transplant that saved his life, his family and friends gathered in downtown Silverthorne to celebrate his recovery.
Dozens of county residents turned out at Silverthorne’s Rainbow Park on Wednesday, May 17, to champion Melott’s battle against cancer while raising awareness for Be The Match, the organization that helped find Melott’s donor.
“Like anything that no one knows about, the more knowledge you can spread is needed,” said Melissa Manibusan, Melott’s girlfriend.
Manibusan said she had never heard of the nonprofit before Melott was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of blood cancer. A branch of the global nonprofit National Marrow Donor Program, Be The Match collects millions of samples from potential stem cell donors to help patients in need of a transplant.
Melott’s sister, Lorena, who organized May 17’s event, said adding to the nonprofit’s donor pool has become one of her main goals as a Be The Match volunteer. She said having enough donor options was something that proved critical for her brother.
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When Melott was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome — also referred to as preleukemia — in February 2022, he was 27 years old. His doctors told him a stem cell transplant was the only remedy.
“I was very healthy, working out — basically the healthiest I’d ever been in my life — and then, out of nowhere, got this cancer,” Melott said.
Initially, Melott’s siblings were tested as potential donors, but they weren’t a match. Lorena said she later learned that even though stem cell matches are mostly contingent on ethnicity, only about 30% of family members end up being matches for one another.
Melott eventually matched with just seven people out of millions in Be The Match’s donor pool, four of whom lived in the United States. After doctors found someone willing to donate stem cells for Melott, he went through about a month of treatment — including chemotherapy — before his transplant on May 17 of last year.
On that day, Melott received about 4 million new cells through an intravenous treatment. After another 100 days of staying near Denver so he could have regular check-ins with his hospital doctors, Melott returned home to Summit County.
“I’ve seen him get stronger and stronger,” said Gail Garness, Melott’s neighbor. “We can’t help but thank God for watching over him. He was way too young to be under that much of a health risk.”
For Lorena, the experience sparked in her a passion to educate others about the life-saving impact of stem cell transplants. But to do that, she also had to spread the word about Be The Match and how community members could get involved.
One of the biggest, and easiest, ways was to promote swabbing, Lorena said. By swabbing the inside of both cheeks for just 10 seconds, Lorena said a person can send in a sample to Be The Match that can then be entered into the organization’s pool of potential donors.
Lorena said that May 17’s event led to 11 new registrants for the donor pool as well as $800 raised for Be The Match. But the event is likely just the first of many to promote such efforts, Lorena said.
Growing the list of potential stem cell donors, Lorena said, could make a life-changing difference for someone like her brother.
“It is, in a sense, simple for us to do and life-saving for someone who needs it,” she said.