Swab-a-thon for Marietta man was a big success

More than 567 potential donors were added to the national bone marrow stem cell donor registry during a recent swab-a-thon for 22-year-old Marietta resident and Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient Tommy Pethtel.

“It was a record swab-a-thon turnout and everyone swabbed was put on the national registry, not only for Tommy, but for others who may be in need of a stem cell transplant,” said his mother, Kim Pethtel.

She said so many people came to the July 26 swab-a-thon at Marietta Memorial Hospital that those performing the tests ran out of swab kits and some folks had to be turned away.

Currently a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Tommy has been fighting lymphoma since March 2012. An attempt to use his own stem cells to overcome the cancer failed earlier this year, so the next best hope for the 2008 Marietta High School grad is to obtain a match and stem cell transplant from a donor.

“We’re not sure when we’ll learn if a match has been found. I’m guessing it will take at least a couple of months,” Kim Pethtel said.

She said Tommy is already being prepared for a transplant as he started a regimen of chemotherapy on July 31. He’ll receive a treatment every three weeks for three months.

“Each treatment wipes out his energy level, but he’s doing pretty good, although we’re dealing with a few side effects,” Kim said. “He’ll have the first four or five treatments locally, then if a match is found we’ll go to The Ohio State University Medical Center for the transplant.”

At OSU Tommy will undergo a week of intensive chemo before the transplant, which will totally crash his immune system.

Kim said even after the transplant there’s the risk that Tommy’s system could reject the donor cells.

“But we’re happy that so many people responded to the swab-a-thon and are now in the registry,” she said. “It was really a great night.”

The July swab-a-thon was coordinated by Cortney Beymer, licensed social worker with the Strecker Cancer Center in Belpre.

She said it takes some time for doctors to determine whether a donor match has been found for Tommy.

“It takes three to four weeks to process the swabs we took, then the data is sent to OSU where doctors will also be looking at all of the other donor data on the national registry to try and find a suitable match,” Beymer said.

She said Tommy’s swab-a-thon brought a record number of potential donors.

“And this was the first time I’ve seen the patient participate in the swabbing,” Beymer added. “He literally handed every person a registration form and thanked each one for coming in. It was almost like a big high school reunion, and I know it lifted his spirits.”

If a matching donor is found, she said Tommy would probably not be able to find out who he or she is for at least a year after the transplant procedure.

“After a year, if the donor is willing, he can find out who it was,” Beymer explained.

She said it would likely be October or November before a match is determined and the transplant performed.

“The procedure literally kills every cell in your body,” Beymer said. “Then you’re like a newborn baby and have to get all of your immunizations again.”

She said after the transplant process a patient must live in an isolation facility and will go through about a year of recovery.

Beymer said more than 2,000 mouth swabs have been performed by the Strecker Center since last fall, and each one goes into the national database with the potential of saving the life of someone like Tommy.

“He’s really amazing, and has such a great outlook on life,” she said.