Elizabeth Fortune on Fast Track with Fighting Red 5K, Matching Bone Marrow Donors with Recipients in Need

According to DoSomething.org, approximately every four minutes someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with blood cancer. In May 2011, Fort Smith native Elizabeth Fortune became one of those statistics, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood cancers comprise types of leukemia, multiple myeloma and lymphoma, and are often only curable with a bone marrow transplant. Found in the center of bones, Fortune says bone marrow is the “factory” where blood cells are made. When identifying a bone marrow match, doctors are looking for specific proteins found in white blood cells. “There are five pairs of these proteins that doctors look to match,” says Fortune, who owns her own communications firm, Fortune Communication. “A perfect match is 10 out of 10. The higher the match, the lower the chance of complications.”

As one can imagine, all these variables make it extremely difficult to find a match. And unlike with organ transplantation, being related to your donor doesn’t increase your odds of success. “Statistically, we’re more likely to find a match from a stranger than from a family member,” Fortune says. “I’ve talked to people with four, five, six siblings, and not one was a match. This means we’re relying on the kindness of strangers to help us become cancer free.” Fortune, along with Colin Hall and others are doing just that at the inaugural Fighting Red 5K, Saturday, Oct. 5. The race begins at 8 a.m. on the Cook’s Landing side of the Big Dam Bridge, and registrants and attendees are encouraged to get swabbed and added to the database. Below, Fortune shares more about the upcoming race.

Soirée: How did the Fighting Red 5K get started?

Elizabeth Fortune: Race organizer Colin Hall has been organizing bone marrow swabbing drives to get people in the national donor database for about two years. He came up with the idea for the race as a way to get more people swabbed and into the database, as well as to raise funds for the UAMS Cord Blood Bank. We will encourage everyone who comes out to the race to get swabbed, but they don’t have to in order to participate in the 5K, nor do people have to sign up for the 5K to get swabbed at the race.

S: Who is sponsoring the race? What do proceeds benefit?

EF: The main race sponsors are Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and CA Technologies. All proceeds benefit the UAMS Cord Blood Bank, [which supplies life-saving cells for transplant and research all over the world].

S: As an organization, what is your greatest need? How can people help?

EF: The greatest need is for people to become bone marrow donors. Some patients wait YEARS for a matching donor, so by getting more people in the database, we can hopefully shorten that waiting period. The process today for joining the database is much easier, and much less painful, than it’s been for years. The process is comprised of four or five cheek swabs — that’s it. It’s amazing to think that one person taking five minutes out of their day could save the life of another. People can register through www.BeTheMatch.org or www.DeleteBloodCancer.org if they can’t make it out to the race to be swabbed.

Fighting Red 5K
When: 8 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 5 
Where: Cook’s Landing side of the Big Dam Bridge
Registration: $30 in advance; $35 day of the race 
Info: FightingRed5K.com

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