Growing up in San Antonio, Taylor Castro always knew she wanted to do something to help her community.
She found a job in which she could do just that, at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. She also made it a point to volunteer for events like San Antonio's World Marrow Donor Day, which held the largest commemoration of the event in the United States.
But the 25-year-old never expected to be the one in need.
Just six months after giving birth to her youngest child, Castro went to the doctor with what she thought was an ear infection. After testing, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“I was terrified when I found out,” she said.
Her treatment began with seven consecutive days of chemotherapy, and she was confined to the hospital for three weeks. During her initial treatment, she also received 14 platelet transfusions, two plasma transfusions, and six whole blood transfusions, all supplied by the local blood center.
As part of her therapy, Castro also is in need of a stem-cell transplant. The GenCure Marrow Donor Program, which is affiliated with the national Be The Match marrow registry, is conducting drives to recruit potential matches for her.
Marrow donors must be a genetic match for patients, and in 70 percent of cases, there is no match within the patient’s family.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking because it’s my daughter and it’s happening to my family,” said Herrera, who is the senior manager of clinical research in the GenCure Apheresis Center, where a lifesaving stem-cell donation could be collected if a match is found in South Texas. “I know that if she needs a bone marrow transplant, or the stem cells, it’s a cure. I know it’s possible, and it’s out there. We just need to see what’s best for her.”
Castro and her mother both understand the importance of joining the marrow donor registry.
“If someone asks how they can help, she tells them to join the registry,” Herrera said. “If they can’t join the registry, she encourages them to donate blood, plasma, or platelets.”
In general, anyone between the ages of 18 and 44 can join the Be The Match registry. Potential donors can begin the registration process by texting GENCURE to 61474 or visiting join.bethematch.org/taylor.
As Castro continues her treatment, she will continue to need blood and platelet transfusions. She is one of thousands of patients helped every year by the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, the San Antonio-based blood bank that has been delivering lifesaving transfusions for the region for almost 45 years.
Castro is aware, however, that while the need for blood continues, donation levels across the United States are near 30-year lows, according to the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) biennial report on collections and usage. The number of blood donations in the AABB report declined by almost 6 percent just from 2013 to 2015.
In addition to the long-term decline in donations, collections vary widely at this time of year. Summers often are slow because there are no drives in schools, and families travel out of town. January also is one of the slowest times of the year, which is why it has been designated as National Blood Donor Month.
The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has developed a number of partnerships with local and area organizations to encourage more donations in the first weeks of 2019. Those include free H-E-B gift cards for blood donors throughout the month of January.
The blood center has five donation rooms in San Antonio, as well as one in New Braunfels and one in Victoria. As it does every month, it will also conduct dozens of mobile blood drives, working with schools, community organizations, churches, and businesses to make donation as simple and as safe as possible.
Those drives help thousands every year, including patients like Taylor Castro.