Family holds drive for man in need of bone marrow, searches for a miracle
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
HOLLADAY — The parking lot was packed Sunday, foreshadowing the long lines snaking through the cultural hall at the LDS meetinghouse.
There were children running underfoot and crawling on parents who waited with all those who had gathered to help a man some of them knew and some of them didn't.
Farley Eskelson kept a low profile, though there was no end to those waiting to speak to him.
"Overwhelming," he said. "I've never appealed for help. That's what's incredible in all of this."
Eskelson has myelofibrosis, a serious bone marrow disorder that disrupts a person's blood cell production. And with a bone marrow transplant as the only treatment with the potential to cure him, his family is determined to find him a match.
"I know the match is here," his daughter, Whitney Van Leeuwen, said emphatically. "We'll get it."
It was Van Leeuwen and her husband, Pete, who spearheaded Sunday's drive, and with the help of family and friends, handed out flyers and took to social media to spread the word.
More than 200 people came to a "Be the Match" bone marrow testing drive in the first hour it was open, representatives from the National Marrow Donor Program estimated.
"He's going through so much. We figured we would get all this," Pete Van Leeuwen said of organizing the event.
Held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse where the Van Leeuwens attend church, they recognized neighbors and other friends. Eskelson's two sisters were there, as were all of their children. There were some people Eskelson has worked with, but there were a good amount of complete strangers.
Each filled out detailed paperwork, swabbed the insides of their mouths and placed the swabs in envelopes. Eskelson's family kept trays full of cookies in thanks.
"It's amazing how many people have been here," Whitney Van Leeuwen said. "I can't believe how generous people are. We are so blessed."
It hasn't been long since Eskelson's diagnosis. It started as a pain in his rib and shoulder, and blood tests revealed his white cell count was 62,000 — far above the normal 3,500 to 10,500 white blood cells per microliter, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Once he was diagnosed, Eskelson's two sisters were tested. Neither was a match.
"We were shocked," sister Kristine Widner said. "We thought one of us would be a match."
Then, a search of the national database came up without any matches.
Widner said she expected a good number of people at Sunday's bone marrow testing drive, but not nearly as many as actually came.
"People are wonderful," she said. "I don't know what it is about Salt Lake and Utahns. They are all so giving. … I think the match is here. I'm going to be optimistic. I have to be."
Joe Brunhart drove from Sandy to take part in the event. He said he saw the story on the news and felt Eskelson was in "the nightmare situation" with what seemed a minor pain that quickly turned serious.
"I thought, 'If it was me in his shoes, I would want people to help me,'" Brunhart said. "It just gets worse if you don't get help."
It was a similar notion that prompted Tahja Stettler to make the drive from Taylorsville. She had a neighbor whose nephew needed a transplant, and she promised to donate at the next opportunity.
"I don't know if I'll be a match," she said. "For me, it was just a matter of, if it were me or one of my kids, I would want people to do something like this."
Robert Smith, also of Taylorsville, had worked with Eskelson's engineering firm on a project in the past. The two shared a love of the outdoors, and when he, too, saw the news report, he was quick to help.
"I saw the story and emailed Farley and said, 'I'd love to help you,'" Smith said. "He's just a really honest, good guy. … When I pulled up and had to wait to turn in to get here, I was happy."
Nicole Eskelson, Farley Eskelson's daughter-in-law, said the experience has shown her the strength and love of their family. But it's also given her confidence in her fellow man.
"Just to see the support of complete strangers reaffirmed to me that humanity is kind and people are good," she said. "Even if we don't find Farley a match, this has been amazing, and hopefully we'll help someone else."
Sunday's "Meet the Match" drive started at 4:30 p.m. and was scheduled to run until 8:30 p.m. Those unable to attend can have a kit sent to them from www.marrow.org.
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