Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 7:31 pm | Fair 58º


Brother’s Struggle Inspires Local Woman to Organize Blood, Bone Marrow Drive

Lauren Thurman's brother, Brent, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia just three years after their mother's bout with breast cancer

A Santa Barbara woman and her family are feeling the sting of a one-two punch of life-threatening diseases.

Former SBCC photography student Brent Thurman, 21, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on March 26, following his mother Tami’s bout with breast cancer in 2007. Now, Brent’s sister, Lauren, is spearheading a blood drive and bone marrow registry on July 30 at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, 1260 Channel Drive.

“Breast cancer seems so much more common,” Lauren Thurman said. “It was hard to see her go through that ... but this seems completely random.”

Thurman, a reservations agent for The Biltmore, said she doesn’t think her mother’s disease prepared the family to deal with her brother’s illness.

“It’s a completely different feeling,” she said. “You’re not supposed to watch your child die.”

Before his diagnosis, Brent was living in San Francisco, working more than 50 hours a week at a deli and riding his bicycle around the city. His fight with AML started in March with staph infections. A doctor prescribed him antibiotics and sent him home, Lauren said.

Friends urged Brent to go to the hospital a couple of days later because he was looking pale and wasn’t getting healthier. Doctors there recognized he was severely anemic, and he was rushed to UCSF Medical Center.

Leukemia was attacking Brent’s bone marrow, which creates red blood cells. “He only had one-third of his blood when he got there,” his sister said.

The family knew it was bad when the oncologist for Brent’s mother walked into his hospital room, Lauren said. After his AML diagnosis, Brent stayed in the hospital for 30 days for chemotherapy.

After waiting to be matched with a bone marrow donor and undergoing a bone marrow transplant, Brent was allowed to go to his parents’ home in Livermore last week. The Thurmans now must wait 100 days to find out whether Brent’s body will accept the transplant.

“It’s been really hard being down here, so I’m just doing anything I can,” Lauren said.

She said she learned of the need for bone marrow donors through her brother’s transplant, which involved sending stem cells through an IV into his blood stream.

She said doctors were particularly worried about finding a match for Brent because of his family’s Native American background. The national registry desperately needs people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to match those in need with donors.

Lauren was introduced to the national marrow organization, Be the Match, during a registry event at Earl Warren Showgrounds. She approached the general manager of The Biltmore about organizing a marrow registry.

“They were wanting to do something for the community, and this was obviously something very close to her,” said Gena Downey, The Biltmore’s public relations director, adding that community outreach is one of the pillars of the Four Seasons’ corporate culture.

United Blood Services will conduct the blood drive, and Be the Match will swab the mouths of prospective marrow donors.

The blood drive will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 30, and the marrow registry from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the same day. The Biltmore will provide juice and cookies for participants.

“I want people to know that I’m not just doing this for (my brother),” Lauren Thurman said. “I’m doing it for everyone out there waiting for someone (to donate).”

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne will be a junior at Chapman University in the fall. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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