Ex-Staffer’s Illness Inspires Marrow Registry

Posted September 14, 2005 at 6:39pm

When Jess Eiesland worked as deputy press secretary for Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), people knew him as an energetic, gregarious guy who enjoyed life and had a great sense of humor. And when he left Capitol Hill for California to pursue other opportunities, his Hill friends were very sad to see him go, but they all knew he would succeed at whatever he eventually chose to do.

Unfortunately, Jess has been diagnosed with AML, an aggressive form of leukemia, and is undergoing a second round of chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. And Jess’ friends are looking to help.

On Friday, Jess’ former colleagues will hold a marrow registry drive on Capitol Hill with the help of the National Marrow Donor Program.

Jess, 28, left the Hill in June to move to Los Angeles, and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with AML, which is especially rare in people his age. He was running and felt a sharp pain in his chest and immediately knew something was wrong. He was admitted into a hospital, where he endured a first round of chemotherapy, and is now at the Mayo Clinic undergoing a second treatment before his scheduled transplant.

Jess was lucky enough to find a donor in his family. Doctors recently discovered that his sister was a perfect match for his transplant. However, according to Isaac Fordjour, director of legislative affairs at NMDP, only 30 percent of patients find such a match in their families, which makes it all the more critical to bring together a large number of unrelated donors and patients for potential life-saving transplants.

“For the other 70 percent, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Fordjour said. “That’s why it is so incredibly important to raise awareness about the registry. There is that one person who may read or hear about Jess, who may join the registry and that could be the one person that matches someone with this disease and saves their life.”

Marrow transplants are inherently difficult to match because the DNA rather than blood must correspond very closely. There is a much narrower threshold of acceptability for finding that exact match.

Several friends and colleagues on the Hill who knew Jess well decided that they wanted to do something not only for him, but for all of the others who suffer from the same or similar diseases. Organizing a registry drive with the NMDP seemed to be the obvious choice.

“We thought that having a registry drive was a really good way to connect people since Jess had so many friends on the Hill,” Sally Cluthe, scheduler for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and one of several staffers who organized the event, said. “The more people that are on the registry, the less families there are that have to go through the stress of not knowing whether they will ever find a match. Jess was very honored we that were doing this for him.”

To further help the cause, Jeffords is planning to sponsor a resolution on Friday in support of National Leukemia and Lymphoma month, which happens to be September.

“I can’t think of a better way for all of us to show our support for Jess, his family and the thousands of others courageously battling cancer than by signing up for NMDP’s national marrow registry,” Jeffords said. “The registry is truly a great success of the medical community.”

The NMDP is a national registry of more than 5 million volunteer donors, as well as a center for information on finding the patient and donor matches. NMDP also sponsors research, advocates for patients, and coordinates a national network of transplant, collection and donor centers, cord-blood banks and other facilities.

The marrow registry drive will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in the Health Unit of the Hart Senate Office Building (SH-124). The drive is open to anyone interested in joining the registry. Volunteers will need to complete a consent form and short health questionnaire. A small blood sample is taken to determine the donor’s tissue type.

To find out more about NMDP, visit www.marrow.org. To find out more about Jess, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/jess.