CSU staffer and husband continue support of bone marrow registry founded by alum

A CSU employee and her husband are raising money to help those who need a bone marrow transplant, continuing an effort begun by a CSU alum nearly 40 years ago.

The Bob and Sherry Graves family and Morning Fresh Dairy, located just north of Fort Collins at 5821 WCR 54E in Bellvue, will be hosting a bone marrow donor recruitment drive from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the dairy’s Howling Cow Café.

Sherry Graves with photos of Laura and Bob Graves
Sherry Graves with photos of her husband and daughter.

In 1979, Bob Graves and his wife, Sherry, learned that their daughter, Laura, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, for which there was no known cure. Today, many people receive a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor thanks to Laura, the first person to undergo the procedure.

From that day on, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences graduate Bob Graves was committed to building a network of matching marrow donors for other patients. In 1981, Laura had a relapse and passed away, but Graves continued his work that eventually resulted in what has become the National Marrow Donor Registry.

Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who was instrumental in Laura’s transplant, went on to win a share of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work on bone marrow transplantation. Bob and Sherry Graves were present in Stockholm when Thomas received the award.

Bob Graves, who passed away in 1997, owned Morning Fresh Dairy north of Fort Collins. The sixth generation of the family now continues the business and supports the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the organization.

Continued support from CSU

Bob on one of his fundraising bike rides.
Bob Falkenberg

Bob Falkenberg, husband of Karen Falkenberg in The Institute for Learning and Teaching, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February 2009, the same disease Laura had.

After six months of chemotherapy, Falkenberg was fortunate to receive a bone marrow stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor, just like Laura had 30 years prior. The transplant. organized and arranged by Be The Match was a success; nine years later he remains healthy and cancer-free.

After Falkenberg’s transplant, he formed Team Lifeblood to raise funds for the Emory Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, where he was treated. In June 2011, 19 months after his transplant, Falkenberg rode his bicycle 1,700 miles from Boston to Key West, Florida, with his daughter Katie and good friend Carl Kooyoomjian. Falkenberg’s doctor and several other key members of his medical team joined part of the 27-day ride. The first Lifeblood Ride raised over $18,000.The team, which has grown to include his wife, other family members and other transplant survivors, has raised over $50,000 through rides over the years. Last year’s Lifeblood ride was from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Francisco.

In 2012, Falkenberg switched gears and began riding and fundraising to support adding more donors to the registry. The testing to add a donor to the registry costs about $100, but there is no charge to the donor, thanks to Be the Match.

Starting where it began

Falkenberg recently discovered that the roots of the donor registry began only 20 minutes from his own home in Fort Collins.

“I was amazed,” he said. “I have ridden my bike past Morning Fresh Dairy numerous times and had no idea the registry started right here.”

Falkenberg is planning to ride 933 miles in nine days from Fort Collins to the headquarters of Be The Match in Minneapolis, leaving from the Howling Cow Café  Sept. 8. “It is such an honor to start the ride where it all began,” he said. “If it weren’t for the love, courage, and determination of the Graves family, I would not be here today.”

At the donor drive, Laura Graves’ mother, Sherry, and other family members will be there to send off Bob and Carl.

“I ride and share my story to provide hope to those facing a transplant, to raise money to add more donors to the registry, and to raise awareness of the critical need for more donors,” said Falkenberg. “The need is great; please consider signing up to be a donor and possibly save someone’s life.”

Bob and team lifeblood
Bob Falkenberg with members of Team Lifeblood

Supporting the program

This year, more than 130,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a serious blood disease. Leukemia will affect 44,000 Americans, including 3,500 children. About 50 percent of adults and roughly 20 percent of children with the disease will lose their life.

Only 30 percent of patients who need a bone marrow transplant have a matching donor in their families. The remaining 70 percent must wait for a compatible stranger to be found using the national registry.

At any given time, about 7,500 Americans are actively searching the national registry for an unrelated donor. Donating bone marrow is safe — more than 35,000 people have donated.

Those who would like to join the registry can sign up at the donor drive/Lifeblood Ride send-off on Sept. 8. Signing up is as simple as giving contact information to Be The Match at the event. Be The Match will then send a cheek swab kit to prospective donors’ homes. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44, in good health, and willing to donate to any patient in need.