Miracle Match is about real stories and real people. We want you to know that when you are out on the course. Each Mile is dedicated to someone who has been touched by marrow and stem cell donation. Here are their stories:
2019 Mile Marker Honorees:
To nominate a mile marker honoree, please send an email to the race administrator at email@example.com. Mile marker honorees must be someone having had a marrow or stem cell transplant, a donor of marrow or stem cells, someone searching for a match or a person or group who have been advocates of stem cell donation.
Joe Griffin - Transplant Recipient
2019 Honorary Race Chair
In 2014, my first year of riding in the Waco Wild West 100, I signed up to be included in the BeTheMatch stem cell donor registry. Little did I know then, that one day I would be a recipient-not a donor—because in April 2017, it was a complete surprise when I was diagnosed with bone marrow failure. Due to the progression of the disease, my prognosis was not good, and the only potential cure was to destroy my bone marrow with concentrated high-doses of chemotherapy, and then have an infusion of healthy stem cells from an anonymous donor. After further testing, and an extensive search of the BeTheMatch registry of over 20 million individuals, a young Canadian, with a previous exposure to the same viruses as I have, and a perfect match of my immune system with all ten important markers the same as mine, was found. In addition, we share a “bonus marker,” which is considered a “permissive miss-match,” which means something good to a really smart genetic scientist, but to me, as I read “Genetics for Dummies,” it just means that he probably rides a Harley, and I ride a bicycle. Karen and I have nick-named my donor “Dudley Do-right,” after the Royal Canadian Mountie who always appears just in time, shouting his familiar line to someone in distress—”Don’t worry….I’ll save you!”
The day before my transplant “Dudley” was connected to a machine somewhere in Canada to extract his stem cells; those millions of cells collected were flown to Dallas and hand-delivered by courier to my hospital room. Early the next morning, I was transfused with Dudley’s healthy stem cells—it only took 20 minutes. “Day Zero,” as the transplant day is designated, is so special that it is considered to be another birthday–which I consider to be my “third”–the ﬁrst when I was born, the second when I was born again, and the third is when I was born born again again. I am still recovering from the rigors of the transplant procedure, and now having no natural protection from various infections until Dudley’s stem cells build a completely new immune system for me, I have to be careful about who I am around, where I go, and what I eat. Also, as a part of the post-transplant regimen to help prevent system-wide complications, I will be taking various anti-rejection medications for at least another year.
As a matter of policy for the first year after transplant, donors and recipients cannot exchange any personal contact information, and are allowed to communicate only through BeTheMatch as an intermediary. My transplant coordinator sent me a nice note from “Dudley.” He said that he’d thought about me many times since his donation and hopes that someday we can meet. I’d like that, too. It’s a rare opportunity that few people have, to thank someone personally for literally saving their life. I’m looking forward to that day—thanks to the BeTheMatch organization who provided the means for an unselfish giver somewhere in Canada and a grateful recipient in Texas–to be forever linked. Want to be a lifesaver? It’s really quite simple. Visit BeTheMatch.org, for information on how you, too, can be included in the donor registry. Who knows…someday, you might end up being someone else’s “Dudley.”
Searching For A Match
Gabi Ornelas is from Temple. In 2015 Gabi was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was in remission for a couple of years and was doing well, but then her cancer returned. Gabi has been going to Houston throughout this year for treatments to help her, however, she will need a marrow or stem cell transplant for a cure.
Gabi has been searching the Be The Match Registry for her “Miracle Match” for the past several years. The central Texas community has held dozens of drives on Gabi’s behalf, but a matched donor has still not been found.
Gabi’s greatest wish is to find a donor to save her life. She truly is a miracle believer!
Melinda Colyer & Tammy Meredith
Donor and Recipient
“I Have been married to my husband, Bubba, for 34 years and have two children, Zach and Jordan. My journey began in May of 2015. Two years later, 2017, I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis and would need a bone marrow transplant. A donor drive was held and over 100 people responded! My one and only sibling, Tammy Meredith, was also tested and was a 100% match!
My transplant was on July 23, 2018. I am currently 90+ days post-transplant and doing well. I am getting stronger every day!”
Renee June Larson
Renee June (Hartman) Larson was born in Ohio, and moved to Amarillo, Texas in 1982. Her parents, Don and Linda Rhoades, are from Harker Heights. After graduating from Palo Duro High school, Renee enlisted in the United States Army.
Renee had one daughter, Rachael, and also helped raise two children of one of her Army battle buddies. She served our country as a field medic, spending time in Alaska, Germany and later was deployed to Kosovo. There, she set up field medic hospitals for those injured by the war. She retired as Staff Sergeant, SSG, Renee Larson.
Renee was deeply involved with her love of running and participated in many 5K, 10K, half marathons, full marathons, triathlons and one ultra-marathon. She ran representing RWB and coordinated trail runs and Centex races for five years, until the summer of her passing. She was instrumental in bringing the love of running and fellowship to her fellow veterans.
Renee was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in March of 2016. She fought a hard battle for nearly three years, passing away on February 16, 2018. She was buried with honors at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen, Texas.
Stem Cell Donor
“I signed up for the Be The Match Registry at a blood drive that I held at the park I worked in March of 2016. I first heard about being a potential match the following year.
It was a pretty high-risk case and urgent case at the time so I made no delay in getting my blood work taken care of. I was more than willing and able to be available. I was never fearful, but was excited to be able to help somebody that needed me. The process was definitely more painful than I had imagined, but it does not compare to the pain that the recipient has gone through and will go through.
I have thought about the recipient every day hoping the transplant would work. I cannot wait until the one-year waiting period is over so I can reach out to the recipient or his family. I was actually very fortunate and thankful to be a match and have this purpose. I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat!”
“In fall of 2014, I ran the full Miracle Match Marathon as a senior in high school. When I ran the race, Be the Match was a blur of names among a slew of pre-race jitters coursing through my mind. But a few months later the group came to do cheek swabs at our high school and because I had ran the race I said “Why not?”, like any endurance athlete does. After learning more about the organization, I was pretty giddy about my cheek swab and the potential to be able to donate to save a life but a few months passed, college loomed, and I forgot all about it.
But on a cold Southern California morning in February 2018, everything changed. I had matched with someone. Four years after the initial DNA swab as an ambitious senior in high school, my now gritty junior in college self was on the road to becoming a bone marrow donor. After a process of physicals, interviews, and logistics phone calls, I was able to successfully donate marrow in August at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C.
I’ll be honest, some of the recovery has been tough, but through this time I have come to conclude that this is by far the easiest way to give someone a complete second shot at life. Be the Match was what got me into endurance sports and being a fit, healthy, marathon and Ironman finisher was what allowed me to be chosen as a donor and able to save a life.
Good luck with your race and don’t underestimate the importance of getting a cheek swab while you are here!
Stem Cell Donor
Tim Anderson is not only a Waco Fire Fighter and the producer of the Miracle Match Marathon finisher medals and award medals but he is also a peripheral blood stem cell donor. He donated several years ago through the Be The Match Registry. Tim hand cuts each of our finisher medals and award medals each year.
Stem Cell Donor
Joshua Burke registered online a couple of years ago hoping to give someone a chance at a better recovery over any issue they could have. He was found to be a match for a woman with leukemia within several months of joining the Registry. Josh donated his stem cells, giving her a second chance of life and many more months with her family.
Josh says, “The process through Be the Match is fantastic and easy. As I went through the process, I learned more about the patient and things they were going through. If the little bit of time I sacrificed to help this individual could help others, I would do it all over again without a doubt. It was an honor to be able to help change someone else’s life.”
Be The Match On Campus
The student organization, Be The Match On Campus, was organized at Texas A&M University in 2011 and at Baylor University in 2012. These students hold registration drives throughout the semester and work hard to educate their fellow students about the Be The Match Registry. Their efforts have resulted in hundreds of students on both campuses joining the registry. Over the past three years, several of these newly recruited volunteers have been asked to donate marrow or stem cells to patients searching for a match.
Megan Blair Dominguez was 23 years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which is uncommon for someone so young. A wife and mother, Megan underwent a stem cell transplant and finally achieved remission. She passed away the following year due to complications from treatment. Her family continues to remember Megan at Miracle Match by providing one of the rest stations in her honor.
Wade Durbin and Edith Huseman
Wade Durbin is a local Fire Fighter who has been involved with the Miracle Match Marathon since the very beginning. He is involved because his sister, Edith Huseman, has been fighting leukemia for many years and may need a marrow or stem cell transplant. Thank you, Wade, for all you do to help keep our runners safe!
Jeanie Sides Johnson
Marrow Transplant Recipient
Jeanie is not only the assistant superintendent for Administrative Services at the Midway ISD, but is also a marrow transplant survivor. Jeanie’s donor was her sister, Claire Sides Northcut. Jeanie and her family were always aware that not everyone finds a matched donor. Because of that, they have continually supported the Miracle Match Marathon, hosting the “Sunny Sides” rest stop each year. Jeanie also started the district’s running and training program which encourages involvement in many local races.
Jeanie unfortunately relapsed with the cancer, but was able to have a second transplant with her brother as her donor. She is recovering and hopes to be back at school soon. Jeanie is an inspiration to us all, but says her inspiration is from her sibling’s willingness to donate.
Christina signed up with Be The Match in 2014 for a co-worker who had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Just this past year, she got the call saying she was a match for a little boy needing a transplant. Christina donated bone marrow for this child and said her experience was wonderful, from her case coordinator, to the hospital staff, doctors and nurses. She was able to get an update on her recipient and he is doing well. She also said she would definitely do it again if needed.
Stem Cell Donor
Joseph joined the Be The Match Registry at a drive held by Waco’s Camp Gladiator in 2014. A year later, he was contacted to see if he would be a donor for this man with acute leukemia. Joseph donated his peripheral blood stem cells giving him a second chance of life.
Cindy Connell was a recipient of a stem cell transplant in 2011. While Cindy was searching for a match, her family and friends held numerous drives to grow the registry. They continue to support the program by educating others about the importance of being a stem cell donor and the ease of joining the registry. Cindy passed away in 2012 and her family continues to honor her by their support of increasing the registry and the Miracle Match Marathon.
Stem Cell Donor
Sandi joined the registry over ten years ago. She came up as a match for a man in Europe with myelodysplastic syndrome last year and donated peripheral blood stem cells to give him a second chance of life.
Two Time Cancer Fighter and Survivor
“I was diagnosed with Leukemia in February of 2016. I had four months of chemo, radiation, blood transfusions and surgery. It was a struggle to find a transplant donor. They decided to use my sister even though she was only a half match. My sister donated her stem cells to me and saved my life for the first time. It was a rough few months but I was cancer free for eleven months. My best friend and I ran the Miracle Match Marathon 5K in 2017 to celebrate my remission and she also signed up for the Be The Match Registry. She very badly wanted to help me out so she’ll jump at the chance to donate for anyone.
I relapsed in April and my saved my life for the second time. I was then back in remission and I turned 27 cancer-free. My best friend and I are running the Miracle Match Marathon 10K in 2018. It’s our annual race. Before cancer I never really exercised or was too healthy but that has all changed. Now, I like to do 5Ks and take better care of my body. I never thought cancer could touch me – I don’t think anyone does. You get a new outlook on life and every day is precious.”
Stem Cell donor
Jennifer because of her advocacy for Be The Match and for her donation of peripheral Blood Stem Cells to a woman with acute leukemia. Jennifer joined the Be The Match Registry at a drive on the Baylor campus sponsored by the Be The Match On Campus-Baylor group which she is a member of. A very short time after joining, she was contacted to see if she would be a donor for this woman in need. Thank you, Jennifer, for your wonderful gift of life and for helping put even more donors on the registry!
Stem Cell Donor
Emily Iazzetti joined the registry when she ran the Miracle Match Half Marathon in 2007. In 2011, she matched with a patient in the Northwest region of the US and was able to donate stem cells to help his recovery. Emily shared her donation process in a piece on KWTX-TV, helping to raise awareness about the registry. Emily is now a community volunteer and mother of two children.
Stem Cell Donor
Dr. Marty Harvill is a professor at Baylor University in the Science department. He donated stem cells several years ago, and continues to support the program by supporting the students at Baylor who work tirelessly to increase the number of donors on the registry through the Be The Match On Campus Baylor University.
Stem Cell Donor
Greg Martin registered in 2004 at a drive at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center where he works. He came up as a match several years after he registered and donated stem cells to a young man with lymphoma.
Stem Cell Donor
Brian Thomas, a senior lecturer at Baylor University, donated stem cells many years ago. He continues to support the program and has spoken to several groups about his experience on the Baylor campus. His great uncle, Dr. Donnell Thomas, was a leader in the field of stem cell transplant research and won the Nobel Prize for his efforts.
Days to 2020 Miracle Match Marathon