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March 8, 2013

Neshannock grad donates stem cells

NEW CASTLE — A selfless act is helping to save a life.

Bobby Nittinger doesn’t want to be called a hero, though.

The 21-year-old Slippery Rock University marketing major and Neshannock High School graduate donated blood stem cells Thursday morning.

To him, the gift of life is the best that can be given to anyone.

Nittinger graduated with Brian Croach, whose brother, David, was diagnosed with leukemia in March 2012. A blood drive was held to find a match. Nittinger was inspired to attend that drive and be tested.

Croach had a bone marrow transplant last May. His mother, Pam, said her son is improving and is grateful that a positive match came through BeTheMatch.org., a national marrow donor registry.

She is also thrilled that Nittinger matched as a donor.

“That was the first time I had heard of the registry and was hoping to help David,” Nittinger said.

Croach needed a donor quickly, but now Nittinger’s blood stem cells will go to a 46-year-old woman with a pre-leukemia condition.

In December, Nittinger, a son of Robert and Ginna Nittinger, learned that he was a potential match but required further testing to see if it was a definite positive. That involved a full body physical, blood work, X-rays of the heart and lungs, and an EKG. He also learned that the odds of finding just the right candidate are quite low.

At that point, he could have chosen not to go any further. But with the support of his family and friends, he knew in his heart he wanted to, for several reasons.

During his freshman year of college, Nittinger’s father was diagnosed with cancer.

“I remember hearing that news and one of the worst feelings was knowing there was nothing I could do to help.”

Nittinger noted that he feels lucky now to be in the position where he can make a difference.

The nearly four-and-a-half-hour peripheral blood stem cell procedure took place at the Institute for Transfusion Medicine in Pittsburgh.

Nittinger’s non-surgical procedure was preceded by five daily injections of a drug to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. Then, his blood was removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separated out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood was returned through the other arm.

“This type is a lot less invasive and less painful than the one done with the needles to extract marrow.”

“I’m not looking to get praise,” Nittinger said, adding it’s easy to register at BeTheMatch.org. A person receives a kit, swabs the inside of the mouth and sends back the test.

“It takes about less than a minute, and I encourage people to do this.”

For Nittinger, there were few, if any, cons about the decision.

“In retrospect, it’s nothing compared to what the recipient is going through with chemotherapy.”

Meanwhile, he plans to carry on with life and school as usual.

“Without David, I wouldn’t have known about doing this. None of this would have been possible. It’s very rewarding.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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