Montague woman donates bone marrow to save sister’s life

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Anna VanGuilder, left, is donating bone marrow to her sister, Jackie Tutak.

MONTAGUE, Mich. — Given only five years to live, things weren’t looking good for Montague’s Jackie Tutak when she was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) a little over a year ago.

It’s a life-threatening disease caused when a person’s bone marrow can’t produce enough healthy blood cells. And it isn’t Tutak’s first time flirting with a deadly ailment.

“Oh God, not again,” Tutak said when she received her prognosis that she would only have five more year to live. “You know, because I felt that with breast cancer.”

Six years before the MDS popped up, she had fought – and won – her battle with an aggressive breast cancer, so unfortunately, she’s used to being in the hospital.

“I’m so tired of being poked with, you know, needles and whatever,” Tutak noted, saying that because of her MDS she has to receive blood transfusions and has to visit the Spectrum Health Cancer Center at least two times a week, which is common with syndromes like MDS.

“The problem with these syndromes is that they can progress to a point where a patient is totally dependent on transfusions,” said Stephanie Williams with the Spectrum Cancer Center Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. “[Without regular transfusions] a certain number of patients can progress into Acute Myeloid Leukemia.”

MDS could take Jackie’s life if she doesn’t get a bone marrow transplant fast.

“You hear some of these horror stories about how long it takes for a match and you know, in the meantime, the clock is ticking,” Tutak said. Fearing that too much time would pass by the time a match shows up.

Luckily for her, she had a match close to home: her younger sister, Anna VanGuilder.

“I didn’t want her to go through it anymore…I just feel like I was the lucky person to be a match,” VanGuilder said.

But the transplant doesn’t come without risk; there’s a slight chance that it won’t work.

“There are side effects associated with a blood or bone marrow transplant, in-particular a side effect called Graft-versus-host disease,” Williams said.

Graft-versus-host disease is when the newly transplanted donor cells attack the transplant recipient’s body.

“I’m nervous, but I’m anxious at the same time because I really want to know what it feels like to be able to walk without getting tired,” Tutak says.

If the transplant is successful, Jackie will spend the next several months recovering in the hospital. To help cover her medical expenses, there’s a spaghetti dinner being held Saturday night by at St. James Catholic Church in Montague. It starts at 6 p.m. and is located at 5149 Dowling Sreet. The dinner was donated by The Villa Venafro restaurant.

“We’re relying on the funds to help with all of this,” Tutak said, adding she’s hoping to receive the transplant this upcoming March.

If you would like to sign up to be a donor click here.

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