Jeana Moore wants to be a matchmaker. But unlike Cupid, she isn’t shooting arrows to make romantic connections. She’s been walking across the country aiming to help people find life saving bone marrow matches by raising awareness about the National Bone Marrow Registry.
On Jan 27., Moore finished a 15-month, 4,434-mile matchmaking journey from Seattle to Los Angeles to New York. Dubbed Steps-To-Marrow, Moore walked so she could tell people face-to-face how an easy cheek swab is the first step to save a life.
“Walking brought me very close to the communities I visited because I was relying on the generosity of others,” she said. “I got to know the people. It was a very good way to reach the American people and talk to them.”
Her trek was also a journey of gratitude. Moore’s 3-year-old grandaughter Jada was born with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer that begins in the bone marrow. The baby’s only hope for survival was a bone marrow transplant but the National Bone Marrow Registry didn’t have any registered matches.
After hundreds of blood transfusions and multiple rounds of chemotherapy to keep her alive, Jada received a bone marrow transplant from a donor in Germany. Once Jada was home and well, Moore decided she needed to do whatever she could to make more matches. So she went for her long walk.
Though Moore thought of Jada every day, she only saw her granddaughter once during the walk and it had been 10 months since their last visit when they reunited Jan. 26 in New York. Jada was asleep in her hotel room, Moore said, describing how she leaned over and whispered Jada’s name.
“She said, ‘Meme’ and threw her arms around my neck and we embraced. We’ve been attached at the hip ever since,” said Moore. “It was really amazing after all that time that she took to me so warmly.”
That reunion was followed the next day by an emotional meeting with Jada’s donor, Torsten Huber, who flew in from Germany to join Jeana on her last three miles and meet the little girl whose life he helped save.
“It was magical. The snowstorm ended. The roads were clear and the sun was shining. The snow was hanging on the trees. When I arrived, Torsten was there to walk with me,” Moore said, her voice catching. “There are no words you can say to someone who has given the gift of life to a child that you love dearly. We can thank him over and over again. We consider him to be a hero. But he says his act was small and anyone would do it.”
Since returning to Deer Park last week, Huber and Moore have exchanged e-mails, beginning plans for another awareness walk, this time in Europe in 2012. There they will share Jada’s story again. It’s one Moore never tires of telling.
“I’ve talked to thousands of Americans,” she said, her voice filled with urgency. “It just takes a cheek swab. Go to our website, stepstomarrow.com, fill out a form, swab your cheek, mail it back. People don’t have to wait. Don’t wait until you are touched personally. It’s very easy to join the registry and with new medical technology it’s not as invasive a procedure (to donate bone marrow) as people fear. In 75 percent of the cases they harvest the cells from your blood.”
While logging 12 to 20 miles a day, Moore shared that sentiment with everyone she met and at numerous registry drives. She reported 3,545 people have registered as a result. “Many people are continuing the work in their communities because we met,” she said, adding that five people have called or written to say her matchmaking efforts were working.
“Those five people were so excited about being a donor that they contacted us,” she said, describing meeting one of them, a young man in Oregon who arranged a free night in a hotel for her and sent for his cheek swab kit within an hour of hearing her story. “He contacted us about two months ago, and said, ‘You changed my life. I am a match and will be making my donation in January.’ He’s made it and saved a life. He was very sweet to let us know.”