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Franklin man donates stem cells to Canadian woman battling cancer

  • Christopher Read (left), 55, of Franklin and Amanda Adams, 40, of North Bay, Ontario, meet for the first time last week after Read’s stem cells were successfully grafted onto Adams’s before Christmas in 2017. The stem cells helped Adams fight blood cancer. Courtesy of Andrew Tess

  • Christopher Read (left), 55, of Franklin hugs Amanda Adams, 40, of North Bay, Ontario, as they meet for the first time last week in New York City. Read donated stem cells which were ultimately used to help Adams fight cancer. Photos courtesy of Andrew Tess

  • Christopher Read (left) of Franklin poses for a photo with Amanda Adams of North Bay, Ontario, as the two meet for the first time June 27 in New York City. 



Monitor staff
Saturday, July 07, 2018

For Christopher Read, being an organ donor is a no-brainer.

   Two decades ago, when Read’s son was only 3, he was diagnosed with diabetes. At the time, Read was not a registered organ donor in New Hampshire, but his son’s diagnosis changed everything.

“If something happens to me and someone can use my organs, well, you know what, they can have them,” he said.

Then, in 2012, Read and his wife were at a camper show in Milford where they encountered a booth for the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a nationally acclaimed nonprofit seeking to partner individuals battling blood cancers and disorders with a donor who could save their life.

Read and his wife learned about a young child with a blood disorder who was looking for a match. The couple agreed to add their names to the registry by conducting a simple mouth swab to check if they were compatible donors. After only a couple minutes, the two went on their way and “enjoyed the rest of the camper show,” and never heard about the child again.

Hundreds of miles away, north of the border, Amanda Adams of North Bay, Ontario, was having trouble sleeping and waking up with night sweats. After seeking treatment, she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a type of blood cancer, in 2010. After chemotherapy treatments, she returned to work cancer free.

“Eventually it came back in 2012-2013, and I went through chemo again,” Adams said.

“March 2016, I became sick again,” Adams said of her cancer returning again. “Basically, my only chance at a normal life, quote on quote, was to find a match.”

In the grips of her continuous battle with cancer, Adams said she was “Sure I signed something at Ottawa Hospital, but I don’t know how that works.”

Read of Franklin got a call from Gift of Life that he was a potential match. The nonprofit said he had met at least three of the 10 parameters to become a donor.

“At 30 percent or more, it’s worth going in for blood tests to see how good of a match you are,” he said.

Gift of Life asked Read to go to the hospital for a more detailed blood test.

“It was a couple of weeks after that, they called and said I was 10 out of 10,” Read said. “I was a perfect match.”

Ottawa General Hospital contacted Adams and told her the good news, they had found a donor.

“I was going through treatments to prepare my body for the eventual transplant,” she said.

This included multiple rounds of chemotherapy to cleanse her body of as many bad cells as possible.

On July 28, 2016, Read was flown to a Gift of Life clinic in Fairfax, Va., for the donation.

He had one needle in each arm – one had blood drawn out of it while it was sent into a machine which spun the blood at high velocity to extract the stem cells. The remaining blood cells and platelets were then pumped back into his other arm. The whole process took about three and a half hours, Read said, and no surgical operations were needed.

“When we were done, they gave me a Band-Aid, put me back on the plane and sent me home,” Read said.

He said he had no idea who the recipient was or where he or she was from.

Months went by, and Read thought about his donation everyday without receiving updates on where his stem cells went.

“When you get on the registry, anyone that’s on the registry thinks, ‘Man, I hope I’m a match. I hope that I can do something to help somebody,’ ” he said. “Everybody wants to be a donor.”

Finally, on Dec. 14, 2016, Read received a phone call and learned about Adams.

“I got a call from Gift of Life telling me that she was on the mend and it worked,” he said. “She was going to be getting better. And what a great, great feeling that is.”

Read said it was like winning the lottery. When he found out, he said he couldn’t hold back his emotions as he called his wife, but got her voicemail. She quickly returned the call, thinking something bad had happened, to find Read overcome with happiness knowing that he helped save someone’s life.

Read, now 55, and Adams, 40, exchanged letters as she healed, but the two had never met in person. Not until Gift of Life stepped in, again, to host a meeting for the two in New York City on June 27.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Adams said. “I was nervous, but I don’t know if he was.”

She described the meeting as “amazing” and was very glad to have put a face to Read’s name.

“Everything was put at ease,” Adams said.

“This whole Gift of Life thing has just been really, really great,” Read said. “They’re awesome.”

He described the whole journey as an emotional roller coaster, not knowing if your donation will be the right one but always hoping for the best. Read encouraged others to add their name to the registry as well and challenged those who are hesitant to try it out.

Ironically, when Adams was in high school, she said she came across a mouth swab testing site trying to find a match for a little boy who needed bone marrow. She wasn’t a match, but decades later, she was the one needing help. She said it’s important to get the word out about donations and getting tested to add your name to any registry.

“Be aware of other people’s needs,” she said.

Adams is “feeling good” now, and was very thankful for the opportunity to meet her donor.

Read is back on the registry in hopes of finding another match, and when asked if he would donate again, he said, “The answer is already ‘yes.’ ”

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414, ext. 8325, or jdawson@cmonitor.com.)