(COLORADO SPRINGS) — A retired Colorado Springs firefighter and Air Force veteran, Ronald Gerding, is now battling leukemia and could die without a stem cell donation. In order to help her father, the Co-owner of Sparkles and Lace Boutique held a donor drive at her shop, in hopes of finding a donor match.
Sparkles and Lace Boutique partnered with DKMS, an international nonprofit bone marrow donor center for this donor registration drive.
To participate, people had to swab their cheeks, for three minutes total, to find out if their stem cells would be a match to save Gerding’s life. The people that showed up included close friends but also complete strangers.
“It’s shocking to me that a stranger, a perfectly good, amazing stranger, could be the key to saving my dad,” said Lisa Raulie, Gerding’s daughter, and co-owner of Sparkles and Lace Boutique.
Gerding was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, in January.
Raulie says that a bone marrow transplant is the only way to save her father, according to his doctors. In order to do a bone marrow transplant, they need a 100% stem cell donor match.
The donor drive lasted the entire weekend from March 24-26. Around 150 people swabbed their cheeks for Gerding, according to Stephanie Richard, the Co-owner of Sparkles and Lace Boutique.
“We’ve had a great turnout and we’re not surprised at all. We have an amazing community,” said Richard.
The boutique has regulars like a restaurant might have.
“My wife has been coming here for about four or five years and they’ve built a really tight-knit group here,” said Martin Salazar, who was there swabbing with his wife.
Raulie says their customers are like family, and you can tell. Some customers were willing to go to great lengths to support the boutique family.
“I thought it might be a little more invasive, something where they’re going to…possibly have to get into your bone marrow to see if you’re a match. But it was actually just…three cotton swabs,” said Andrea Salazar, a regular customer.
Some people registered because of their own connection to the disease.
Andrea Wells said a bone marrow transplant saved her mother’s life when she was 11 years old. Her mother died due to other complications, but she had vowed to do it for someone else, knowing how important it can be.
“I know what he’s [Ron Gerding] is going through, having leukemia since my mom had it. And so I just wanted to give him the chance to get the bone marrow that he needs,” said Wells.
This donor registration drive is not only for Gerding. People who swab are also entered into a national registry, so they can also be a match for somebody else in need.
“That part of it really means a lot to my dad. He said that would be pretty incredible if they not only found a donor for me but if we could help some other people find a donor as well,” said Raulie.
There is also a virtual drive that is still open where the swab kit is sent directly to people’s homes. If there is a match, the stem cell donation procedure would be similar to a blood donation.
According to Be The Match, “For 5 days leading up to the donation, you will be given injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of blood-forming cells (also called blood stem cells) in your bloodstream. On the day of your donation, your blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that will collect only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through a needle in the other arm. This process is similar to what is used when donating blood platelets.”
Raulie says they are hoping to find a match by mid-April.