‘They can give somebody a life:’ Transplant recipients, donors push for donor job protection

Elle Crofton was 25 when she was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer.

“At 25-years-old, you kind of think you’re still invincible,” said Crofton. “The diagnosis hit. I wasn’t fully aware of what that meant for a long time.”

What it meant was she needed a stem cell transplant to save her life.

Thankfully, she got the call that a match was found through the national registry: NMDP, formerly known as the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match.

>> Funeral services announced for 14-year-old Ellie Carder

“She was able to save my life and that’s why I’m here eight years later,” said Crofton.

Crofton now works as a teacher in Philadelphia. It’s all thanks to a stranger who signed up to donate to help.

Claire LaSee from Olympia, Washington is one of the millions of donors on the registry, and in 2019 she got the call to help another person in need.

“I had matched a man in his 60s with cancer. So, it was a no brainer for me,” said LaSee.

LaSee donated surgically. She said she had to take about 40-45 hours off work in total for the physical, donation and recovery process.

>> Shots fired at Ohio hotel leads to police chase

But not every donor has the ability to take off work.

“The most commonly cited reason that donors can’t donate stem cells is really just because they’re worried about job security,” said Dr. Clark Alsfeld, an oncologist and stem cell transplant physician at Ochsner Health in Louisiana. “If we do find that one donor or two donors, we don’t want to lose them because they’re worried about job security. It’s a big issue.”

There’s now a bipartisan bill in Congress aimed at protecting donors called the Lifesaving Leave Act.

It allows donors giving bone marrow or blood stem cells to take 40 nonconsecutive hours of unpaid time off from work during a one-year period.

Around 60 transplant donors, recipients and advocates recently came to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to pass the proposal as soon as possible.

“Too many people waiting for bone marrow transplants can’t find a match because donors can’t take time off from work,” said Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “I’m fighting for this bill because every potential donor has the opportunity to save a life, and we must ensure the fear of losing your job is not a barrier to doing so.”

“Americans deciding to make a lifesaving bone marrow or blood cell donation should not have to worry about losing their job,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), another sponsor of the Senate bill.  “Patients with life-threatening conditions depend on them. This legislation makes it easier for Americans to provide these crucial donations to save lives.”

Doctors say the job protection is urgently needed, especially since ideal donors are between ages 18 and 30.

“Just out of college, in their first jobs and may not have that seniority to take off the time or have that protection,” said Alsfeld.

“They can’t guarantee your employer will keep your job or there won’t be repercussions for you if you donate,” said LaSee.

Donors, recipients and doctors are now hoping the proposal in Congress will change that.

“They can give somebody a life and then also make sure they’re financially stable,” said Crofton. “Every donor that gets the call should be able to donate. So, this would just eliminate one of the biggest barriers that we have out there.”

The bill has Democrats and Republicans as sponsors in the House and Senate.

Comments on this article