Rebecca Ann Lewis J.D. '79

Advocate for bone-marrow registry
November 30, 2011
 
Elizabeth

Greg Singer/Singer Photography

When Becky Lewis was in her early forties, she noticed that she didn't have as much energy as she used to for her recreational pastimes of running, biking, and swimming. A lawyer specializing in civil litigation and insurance law, she was chief bar counsel for the Wyoming State Bar Association and chalked up her fatigue to her hectic professional life. But during one of her regular appointments to donate blood, she was told something was wrong with her blood and that she needed to see a physician immediately.

In the span of a harrowing few weeks, Lewis learned that she had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disorder of stem cells in her bone marrow, and would likely die without a bone-marrow transplant. Lewis' oncologist turned to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), the global leader in providing marrow and umbilical-cord blood transplants to patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other diseases. The organization identified a matching donor on the NMDP's Be The Match Registry, and she received a life-saving transplant in 1997.

Lewis has recovered fully from her bout with MDS. She runs half marathons, bikes, and skis. But the experience raised her awareness of the importance of the NMDP. She now serves as chair of the NMDP's board. Since operation began in 1987, its registry has grown to more than 9 million potential donors, and the nonprofit has facilitated more than 43,000 transplants.

Lewis says that the global database allows physicians to search for matches in a matter of minutes. "When I was diagnosed, it could take two or three months to determine if there was a match," she notes, but says that non-Caucasian matches can be harder to find. "Of the 9 million people on the registry, only 28 percent are from minorities. We're working hard to get a more diverse racial and ethnic representation of people in the donor pool."

Be The Match and the NMDP also help patients and their families with a wide variety of services, from helping negotiate insurance reimbursements to preparation for and recovery from the transplant itself. People who aren't willing or eligible to join the registry as potential donors can donate to the organization to help offset the cost of these services, which are provided free to patients.

Even though her life is full of professional obligations and personal pursuits, Lewis says she has an obligation to work with Be The Match and the NMDP. "Without question, I would be dead had it not been for the transplant I received through the NMDP. There was no other treatment for my disease."