Passing meaningful legislation in a politically charged Presidential election year is difficult, and it is almost impossible this year during a global pandemic. There are, however, issues Congress can rally around, even in the most challenging of times.
An issue that should transcend partisanship and demand action by Congress is the enactment of legislation to reauthorize the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program. The program provides access to life-saving bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cell and cord blood transplants for patients living with one of the more than 70 blood cancers or blood disorders for which a transplant is the only curative option. I know firsthand as I am alive today because of this great Federal program.
Over the past 30 years, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)/Be The Match has been entrusted by Congress to operate this critical program. During that time, more than 100,000 life-saving and life-extending transplants have been facilitated through the national registry. Many of these transplants took place here in North Carolina including my own life-saving cord blood transplant at Duke University Medical Center. Our Tar Heel State is also home to the Levine Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, UNC Hospitals, and Wake Forest Baptist Health.
Since its inception, the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The Program has been reauthorized by Congress every five years. One of my Senators, Richard Burr (R-NC), was a key sponsor and leader in the last two reauthorization efforts in 2010 and 2015 and I hope he will be a leader again this year.
The Program is up for reauthorization again this summer and it is absolutely imperative that both chambers act swiftly to ensure that the program is reauthorized and that the critical life-saving work continues. The mission of the national registry to match patients and donors and ensure the timely transportation of lifesaving cellular products through the United States and around the world has been made even more challenging by COVID-19. Despite the pandemic, NMDP/Be The Match completed more transplants in June than in any single month in the Program’s history. This was only made possible by having the status of a Federal authorized Program that is recognized by other Federal, state, and local agencies and foreign governments. Should the Program’s authorization lapse at the end of September, there is concern that the program may not be able to operate as efficiently during the continuing public health emergency.
I received my lifesaving cord blood transplant in November 2012, at the age of 64, after I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – a most aggressive blood cancer. After a career in medicine as an OB-GYN, who delivered more than 5,000 babies, I never imagined that I would owe my own life to the scientific miracle of bone marrow and cord blood transplants.
In May, I celebrated the seventh anniversary of the cord blood transplant that saved my life. I can only imagine being a patient today wondering whether the pandemic would prevent me from getting my lifesaving transplant. Congress can provide some reassurance for the 1.3 million Americans who are suffering from otherwise fatal blood cancers and disorders and their medical teams with the swift passage of this legislation to ensure access to the same life-saving treatment that I received.
We all understand the challenges of the current political climate, but as Winston Churchill famously said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
We could all use a little more optimism these days. By acting to reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, Senator Burr and his colleagues in Congress can show Americans that bipartisanship is not dead and that even in the most challenging of political environments, our leaders can still work together to produce legislation that saves American lives.