CALUMET COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – Bob Falkenberg said he was very fortunate to have 13 perfect matches when he needed a bone marrow transplant to treat his leukemia 13 years ago. But he understands that not everybody is as lucky as he was which is why he’s dedicated to making a difference.
“I made a decision, a conscious decision when I was in treatment that if I survived it I would do whatever I could to help other people going through the process,” said Falkenberg.
He credits staying fit and having a positive attitude as two of the primary reasons he was able to beat cancer.
Falkenberg has used biking as a means of raising money and awareness for an organization called ‘Be The Match’ which helps people get life-saving bone marrow transplants. He helps to lead a series of rides throughout the year, called the Tour de TC, to raise money for the cause.
According to an organization fact sheet, doctors diagnose over 12,000 people with life-threatening blood cancers or other diseases like sickle cell where a blood stem cell transplant (where doctors replace unhealthy cells with healthy cells from another person) is the best method for treatment.
Usually, when it comes to matching for a blood stem cell transplant, patients match with people who have the same ethnic background that they do. According to ‘Be The Match,’ those of Caucasian descent have a 79 percent chance of finding a match for a blood stem cell transplant while African-Americans only have a 29 percent. Asian/Pacific Islander (47 percent), Hispanic or Latino (48 percent), and Native Americans (60 percent) also have a smaller chance of finding a match than white Americans do.
“You worry about am I ever going to recover from this but it’s possible, there’s lots of us that are survivors that are out here who have our lives fully back and are doing some epic things,” said Falkenberg.
Right now, Falkenberg is leading a bicycle ride that started in Chicago, went to Door County, and is now heading towards Madison. Falkenberg has led several long bike rides this year and he and other riders have raised over $120,000 for ‘Be The Match.’
When Local Five News caught up with Falkenberg on Sunday afternoon in rural Calumet County, he was taking a break from riding because he was a little under the weather.
But, there were seven other people in his group who were riding. One of them is Marsha Krone who told Local Five News that doctors diagnosed her with a rare bone marrow cancer in 2016. She’s still waiting for a match for a transplant.
She told Local Five News that she has several rare Human Leukocyte Antigen markers (the immune system uses these markers to recognize which cells belong in your body and which do not ), making finding a match difficult.
“It only takes six hours of your time to donate your stem cells and it’s always a good day to save a life,” said Krone.
Sam Gabuzzi is another rider. His son was diagnosed with Leukemia when he turned 19.
“Someone who is struggling for their life who doesn’t complain who says I’m going to do this and does everything they can to encourage others who are in his same situation,” said Gabuzzi. “That to me is a hero.”