Press-Republican

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July 22, 2011

Ironman helps those needing bone marrow

LAKE PLACID — Triathlons have been part of Tom Kramer's life since the early 1990s, and he'll tackle the Ford Ironman Lake Placid on Sunday.

It takes a lot for him to swim, run and bike in the grueling competition. But compare that, he says, to what is faced by those with diseases requiring bone-marrow transplants.

"The pain that they go through is far worse than any discomfort we may go through," he said.

That's why in 2009 he created Racing to Register, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding bone-marrow donors.

DIFFICULT DIAGNOSIS

Kramer, 45, knows what the pain is like because he lives with someone who has dealt with it for 13 years — his wife, Pam. She was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET), a blood disorder that causes an elevated number of blood platelets. The diagnosis came with a potentially devastating unknown.

"One of the potential risks of ET is it can convert to myelofibrosis, which is essentially a deterioration of the bone marrow," Kramer said.

That's what happened in Pam's case; the only cure for the rare disease is a bone-marrow transplant.

"It's like hearing you could die one day," Kramer said. "When you hear that news, it's pretty scary."

SEARCH FOR HELP

The couple began searching for help almost immediately, traveling across the country to visit doctors for different opinions and to find a potential marrow donor. It was in October 2009, while searching for a donor, that Kramer decided to try to get the word out that donors were needed.

"What I learned is there are so few people in the donor base, and what I started to realize was that nobody really knew about it," he said. "I sat down and put up this website, and I decided that I would do a marathon and four Ironman races in five months and we could use that as a platform."

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