Looking for a Christmas gift
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Paul Kuntz is surrounded by the ladies in his life who are committed to finding a bone marrow donor for him. They are, left to right, daughters Lisa Reinert, Lois Haydt, Lynn Witt and wife, Shirley.
Paul Kuntz, 67, of Kunkletown has always been a very active guy, walking miles every day and trying to keep in shape.
Early this year, he started noticing shortness of breath and that he was becoming weak and very tired. He was doing a lot more resting and the things he normally did took more out of him.
In April, he visited his family doctor, Dr. Deborah Bren who referred him to Dr. Surendra Shah of Palmerton/Lehigh Valley. After two bone marrow biopsies from his hip at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, he remembers sitting in the doctor's office and hearing, "I hate to tell you this ..."
"I don't think it quite sunk in what he was saying. I think I was pretty overwhelmed," says Kuntz.
His wife of 48 years, Shirley, was with him and remembers thinking, "This can be fixed. But then you hear what the doctor is saying and you begin to understand what's involved. Then you get scared."
Kuntz has Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS.) It is the name of a group of conditions that occur when the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow are damaged. This damage leads to low numbers of one or more types of blood cells. The "aggressive" version of this condition causes bone marrow cancer.
"This is so hard. He's never sick," says his daughter, Lois Haydt.
A transplant is what Kuntz needs. He needs a perfect match. Since this is very rare, the next best thing is to find a match as close to perfect as can be.
"What's really frustrating is, he has three daughters and none of us will be a match. The most we can be is a half match," says his daughter, Lisa Reinert.
Kuntz was put on the National Marrow Donor Program registry as soon as he was diagnosed in April. So far, no match has been found.
Now his three daughters, Lois, Lisa and Lynn Witt, all of Kunkletown, and Shirley, his wife, his nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, family and friends, are on a mission to find a match for him.
Shirley initially contacted the registry and was sent a lot of information.
"I was overwhelmed. I didn't know how to start," she says.
She gave everything to her son-in-law, Ron Witt.
"There are a lot of stories out there about what is involved in a bone-marrow transplant which scares off a lot of people. We decided to look into it and see what it entailed," he says.
For Kuntz, the bone marrow transplant he will need is done by a blood transfusion, the least painful type of transplant and not the invasive one where bone marrow is extracted from the donor.
The next step was to find a way to get the word out that Kuntz was in need of a donor.
"I'm involved with the Health and Safety Conference sponsored by Penn State which is held each year in Fogelsville. I contacted my peers on the steering committee. I explained how I thought it would be a great opportunity at the conference to try and get people involved in registering for the donor program. Each year we have at least 300 people attend," says Ron.
The steering committee gave a resounding, "Yes" to his request. Then he contacted Betty Kelly, account executive of Recruitment and Community Development at the National Marrow Donor Program and she approved of his idea.
"The next step was to organize the local effort," says Ron.
Kuntz's daughters and their families made copies of a biography on him with his picture, attached them to cans and hand-delivered them to stores, businesses and organizations.
The printout reads: "A Christmas Gift for Paul. Being a bone marrow donor could save a life."
It lists the date, place and time when there will be an opportunity to see if a donor can be found; Monday, Dec. 21 at St. Matthew's UCC in Kunkletown from 3-7:30 p.m. Each person will be tested by the simple act of swabbing the inside of the cheek. It's painless and quick. You must be between the ages of 18-60 years old. From this cheek swab, it can be determined if you are a match for Kuntz through DNA.
The family wants interested parties to know that if you are tested, your results will be placed on the national registry. But, if you do not match Kuntz, you are under no obligation to donate to anyone else. That would be your choice. But it could be a life-saving gift to someone else.
If you do not wish to be tested but would like to help someway, a donation can be made to offset the cost of finding a donor.
"This is very humbling for us. And emotional. He's my father. We want him here with us a long time," says Lisa.
Waiting to find a donor, Kuntz is undergoing chemotherapy and taking medication to prevent contracting any illnesses.
He was told that if he receives the needed transplant, it will be a long road. He'll be in the hospital between six to eight weeks.
"Miracles happen. We're hoping for a Christmas miracle," says daughter, Lynn.
If you would like to help Kuntz or want more information, please call Lynn at (610) 381-3504.