Maria Flannery of Hopkinton and Lisa Buccella of Franklin became close friends when they were neighbors in 1991. They spent a great deal of time together, traveling, dinner parties and even sharing the train ride into Boston each workday. In 1994, that friendship developed even further when Flannery, who had been diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at the age of 10, was told that her kidneys were failing.
They think back to that year with gratitude for one other. As Flannery’s kidney function declined, Buccella provided a strong emotional support system and did all she could do to help. This included transportation to and from the train, running errands and even carrying her friend’s work bag each day. As they reflect on those days, they are able to laugh and even refer to them as the "Driving Miss Daisy" days.
"I was beyond tired," Flannery said. But on March 15, 1994, she said, "my father saved my life, literally." He was a match, and one of his kidneys has kept his daughter alive and healthy for 17 years. That kidney has now aged and Flannery is again in need of a transplant.
"Five people offered to be living donors, but none were a match," Flannery said. So now she is registered with the New England Organ Bank, one of more than 108,000 people waiting for the gift of life. This time, with improved medical procedures, she hopes for a pancreas as well, which would cure her diabetes.
Though they are no longer neighbors, Buccella remains by Flannery's side. And this time, the search for a transplant hits even closer to home. Buccella’s 45-year-old brother-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia in October and was told he needs a bone marrow transplant to survive.
He is fortunate. A perfect match was found through the National Marrow Donor Program, run by Be The Match registry. In February, he will receive a PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) transplant given by an anonymous donor found in overseas. The majority of bone marrow transplants are now performed by this non-surgical procedure.
That doesn't negate the fact, however, that bone marrow donors, like organs and tissue donors, are in short supply, Buccella said. One of the reasons is that the opportunity doesn’t often present itself for discussion among family members. So she and Flannery pondered ways to raise awareness and the two joined forces.
On Saturday, Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to noon, Buccella is holding a bone marrow drive, and Flannery will distribute information on how to become an organ and tissue donor. The event will be held at the Franklin YMCA, 45 Forge Hill Road in Franklin.
All that is required to become a potential registered bone marrow donor is a simple cheek swab that determines tissue type, Buccella said. This can be done at a local drive or online at www.BeTheMatch.org .
Registering to become an organ donor is just as simple and can be done when renewing a driver's license, Flannery said, or registering at the New England Organ Bank website at www.neob.org.
The two also plan to distribute literature at various Registry of Motor Vehicle locations in the coming months. They stress that the point isn’t to find donors for themselves and those they love - is to emphasize the need and ease. "So many people are waiting,'" Flannery said, and the wait is long - three to five years. The longer the wait, the less functional Flannery's kidneys will become and she, like so many others, will face dialysis if a donor is not found.
Not only do organ donations save lives, they bring comfort at a time of grief, Buccella said, a fact emphasized with the death of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, killed Jan. 8 in the Tucson, Arizona shooting that seriously injured U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Unlike a high percentage of Americans, Christina was vocal about her support for organ donations. "It’s not a pleasant conversation to have around the dinner table" Flannery said, "but it’s important for family members to know your hope to be an organ donor in the event of your death".
The two friends are grateful to those who have already registered to be donors. They would like to see as many people as possible come to the event to learn about ways in which they can make a significant difference in other peoples' lives.
For more information, visit www.BeTheMatch.com, www.marrow.org, or www.DonateLifeNewEngland.org.