After a stem cell transplant saved his life, a Summit County man’s family looks to raise awareness for nonprofit that found his donor
May 17 event at Silverthorne’s Rainbow Park will provide information and resources for Be The Match — part of a global nonprofit for stem cell research and care
It’s been over a year since Dillon resident John Melott faced a devastating reality: as a healthy 27-year-old, he had a life-threatening form of blood cancer.
Melott, now 29, is in remission. It can still be hard for him to find his breath, and he remains immunocompromised. But he’s going on walks and hikes again with his family. He even played his first round of golf since his diagnosis on a recent sunny afternoon in May.
“I’m just thankful to be alive every day,” Melott said. “It’s a blessing I’m still here, and I’m grateful for every day I’m up on the right side of the dirt.”
May 17 will mark exactly a year since Melott received the treatment, a stem cell transplant, that saved his life. His sister, Lorena, plans to use the day as both a celebration for her brother’s recovery and a chance to educate community members about the treatment. She also wants to support the nonprofit that found his donor.
“I would hope that this is one of many events that I can continue to grow and build on,” Lorena said. “I didn’t know a thing about (stem cell transplants) … it’s incredible.”
In the fall of 2021, Melott first began to not feel like himself. He was regularly fatigued and said friends and family were noticing discoloration in his skin color. As winter approached, Melott felt his body getting colder and colder.
“I’m usually one of those people that wears short sleeves and shorts during the winter,” Melott said, adding that his chills were a red flag.
In January 2022, his mother urged him to go to the emergency room. After arriving, a doctor told him his blood cells were in critical condition. Melott was rushed to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, where doctors used blood transfusions for 18 days to keep him stable as they looked for a solution.
In February of that year, Melott sought care from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers in Denver. He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome — also referred to as preleukemia.
Melott said he was shocked.
“I was very healthy, working out — basically the healthiest I’d ever been in my life — and then, out of nowhere, got this cancer,” Melott said.
Melott said doctors at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute told him a stem cell transplant was the only way to save his life.
Doctors first tested Melott’s siblings to see if they could be donors, but they weren’t a match. Lorena, his sister, said she later learned that only about 30% of family members end up being matches for one another.
Instead of being based on blood type, “it’s based on ethnicity,” said Lorena, whose father is white and whose mother is Black and white.
“When we weren’t matches, I got very nervous that we wouldn’t be able to find a match for him,” she said.
Melott matched with just seven people out of millions in the blood institute’s donor pool, four of whom lived in the United States. Eventually, doctors found someone willing to donate stem cells for Melott, who went through about a month of treatment — including chemotherapy — before the transplant.
On May 17, he received about 4 million new cells from his donor through an intravenous treatment.
Melott had to stay in Denver near the hospital for another 100 days so that doctors could ensure his body was receptive to the stem cell transplant.
Throughout all of it, Melott said it was his family that helped him to “keep pushing forward.”
For Lorena, seeing how a stem cell transplant saved her brother’s life prompted her to get involved with Be The Match, the organization that helped find Melott’s donor. Be The Match is a branch of the global nonprofit National Marrow Donor Program, a leading stem cell research and care organization.
Lorena will be hosting an event on May 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rainbow Park in Silverthorne that will include a catered lunch from Hacienda Real and a raffle fundraiser. Lunch will cost $10, and lunch with a raffle ticket will cost $20, Lorena said, with money going to Be The Match and to support Melott’s recovery.
Lorena will also be providing free swab kits that attendees can use to collect a sample for Be The Match. By swabbing both the inside of their cheeks for just 10 seconds, attendees can be entered into the potential stem cell donor pool.
Growing the list of potential donors, Lorena said, could make a monumental difference for someone like her brother.
“It is, in a sense, simple for us to do and life-saving for someone who needs it,” Lorena said.
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