By FOX News Radio's Tonya J. Powers
The bone marrow that will save Renee Padgett's life is out there.
She's a 24-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol and has devoted her life to public service. Beyond serving others as a law enforcement officer for decades, in 2005, she started a program called Homeward Bound in Washington to put photos of missing children on the sides of 18-wheelers to help raise awareness. She says the idea for the program came to her when her own child was born. "We were stuck in traffic and we were just sitting there, and I'm looking around seeing all the sides of these semis that were empty," she explained, calling it an "open canvas". Six children have been safely reunited with their families as a result of the program.
She's taken the phrase "to serve and protect" to heart, and made a career of fighting for others.
Now, she's fighting for her own health, battling multiple myeloma - a cancer of the plasma cells inside the bone marrow. She was originally diagnosed with the disease in May 2012.
Padgett has already done seven rounds of chemo, and is going into an eighth, but it isn't having the success her doctors had hoped. "Because of my functions with my kidneys, there's not very many chemotherapies available right now for me", Padgett explained.
She's already tried the autologous bone marrow transplant. That's a fancy term for removing stem cells from the patient before chemo or radiation is done, storing them, and then putting them back in the same patient's body after chemo to make normal blood cells. Padgett had that procedure done in 2013, and was in remission for almost two years.
She relapsed in February.
"My doctors have said this is the time to go ahead and do a stem cell transplant with my own cells, have a 30-45 day break, then bring in an unrelated donor", Padgett explained.
The second type of transplant she needs is called an allogeneic bone marrow transplant, in which stem cells are taken from another person - a donor. Blood tests must be done to see if the donor is a good match for the patient... with close relatives, like a brother or sister, usually giving good results.
Except in Padgett's case, she must look elsewhere.
She has siblings and says they were tested, but none were matches. That means her doctors are now turning to the National Bone Marrow Donor Program for help. According to the NBMDP's website, 70% of patients who need a transplant do not have a matched donor in their family. More than 12 million volunteers have registered with the NBMDP to be a bone marrow donor.
Padgett says, "If it's not a close match, then you fight what they call 'graft-versus-host-disease'", or GVHD.
GVHD occurs when newly transplanted cells attack the recipient's body, and usually happens within the first six months following a transplant, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Simply put: Getting the closest match possible is essential for a good outcome.
Padgett's family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers have rallied around her, getting tested, holding marrow registry drives and raising money. She even received support from an unlikely group: local inmates.
As reported by KOMO News, forty inmates at the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma heard about Padgett's need for a donor and volunteered for testing to see if they're a match. The only problem: Padgett and her partner were told by the agencies that register donors that inmates aren't eligible because of risks and rules. But Padgett is grateful for their effort.
"It's kind of overwhelming, not just as a trooper, but as a mother. You just think 'Wow, these folks are willing to step up and not just get tested for myself, but added to the registry for everyone else'. Every time someone gets added, they could be saving a life".
In a reversal she didn't see coming, Padgett finds herself in the role of needing help instead of giving it.
"It's an extremely humbling experience. Because we're not usually in that position, it's difficult to say 'Hey, somebody out there, I could use some help'. I'm looking for a gift - a gift of life", she says.
And even while facing the fight of her life, she's still thinking about helping others.
"It's not just me... it's so many, so many others, worldwide. If that doesn't happen for me, hey, let's make it happen for somebody else. Absolutely."
LISTEN to the full interview as FNR's Tonya J. Powers speaks with Renee Padgett:
To find out more about bone marrow donation, go to BeTheMatch.org. Use the code TrooperRenee to join Padgett's fight.