Richard France has been visiting Pine Island for 18 years. Each winter he escapes the Ohio winters for the sunny warmth of Pine Island for about six months a year.
"In 2008 I was diagnosed when I was 68 years old with acute leukemia," France said. "I underwent treatments for a fair amount of time, 4 or 5 months - chemotherapy. We usually come down in January but that year we were here for March and April."
He continued, "After that I was in remission for three years but then in 2011 we were here in Florida and I got a call from my doctor. He said the cancer had returned and that I needed to get back to Ohio. They recommended that I have a bone marrow transplant and I got on the transplant list. I think it was under a year when I got word that they had a donor. By then they had decided against a bone marrow transplant and were looking for a stem cell donor. It was the day before Thanksgiving that I went into the hospital and I stayed until almost Christmas. On Nov. 30, I got Laurie Burnworth's stem cells."
Laurie Burnworth stem cell donor and Richard France recipient.
A stem cell (blood or marrow) transplant is the infusion, or injection, of healthy stem cells into your body to replace damaged or diseased stem cells. A stem cell transplant may be necessary if your bone marrow stops working and doesn't produce enough healthy stem cells. A stem cell transplant also may be performed if high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy is given in the treatment of blood disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma.
"I've been donating blood for years," Burnworth said. "I think I may have signed up for this at one of those times I signed up for blood but I really don't remember. It seems one thing led to another and I believe we were matched up in 2008 and they called me. But that's when Richard went into remission and they held off. Then in 2011 they contacted me again and said 'You are the perfect match for this gentleman and if you're still interested we're going to do this.' After extensive testing we went ahead.
"I think a lot of people don't sign up because they think they take the material from the bone," Burnworth continued. "But in my case you just go to the blood bank, which for me was in Rockford, Ill., and sit in a chair and then you just get hooked up like you're donating blood the difference being though is you're hooked up with both arms. One arm collects the blood where it is sent to a centrifuge that separates the platelets and then the blood is returned through the other arm to your body.
"It's really not a bad process," Burnworth said. "It takes a little time but this is the result. For the first year you can correspond with each other anonymously. Then after a year you sign forms releasing the information. It was Christmas 2012 that I got my phone call from Richard. And, of course, I didn't recognize the phone number so I didn't answer but he left a message and I immediately called back. That's when it really hit me and I cried because Richard and his family got to celebrate Christmas. Then this year they got to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and I cried again."
"We meant to get together last year but didn't," France said. "My wife urged that we get together this year and here we are. It's been two years since I got my transplant and I've got another three to go before I'm considered cured. I'm getting pretty much everything back and I feel wonderful and I'm so thankful for Laurie. I wish more people would look into donating organs in general."