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Wadena woman donates stem cells to help save life of cancer patient
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Wadena woman donates stem cells to help save life of cancer patient

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STRAWBERRY POINT — Lynn Fettkether never thought she’d ever be a match for stem cell donation when she registered as a donor back in April 2017.

After all, she had known people who had been on the Be the Match registry for upwards of two decades without ever being matched with a patient who needed their stem cells or bone marrow.

But just three years later, the Wadena woman got a phone call.

“They said, ‘Hey Lynn, you have been matched up with someone,’” Fettkether recalled. “It was pretty exciting.”

Fettkether’s stem cells were a match to someone else’s — she can only say it was a cancer patient due to patient privacy laws. And that started her on a weekslong journey involving several medical procedures and multiple flights to help out someone she’s never met.

“She’s just that way — she wants to be a giver,” said her longtime friend and co-worker Amanda Harford.

Fettkether, a care transition specialist at St. Croix Hospice in Strawberry Point, said it was a no-brainer for her.

“I had seen someone post on Facebook that they were sending in their swab test, and I thought, ‘What the heck? I could be doing this,’” she said. “I love being able to help people.”

Harford and Fettkether grew up “between Elkader and Littleport” in Clayton County, riding the school bus together. When Fettkether heard of an opening a few years ago at her employer, she called Harford and told her to apply.

So when Fettkether told Harford — now a registered nurse as well as manager of clinical services at St. Croix — that she wanted help taking the injections she needed to prepare to donate her stem cells, Harford didn’t hesitate. It’s what Fettkether would do for anyone else, Harford said.

“She’s very open and motivated,” Harford said. “If there’s any family in need, she’ll strive to say, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Fettkether said she’s used to helping out where she can, donating blood and plasma regularly. But stem cell donation was a different experience altogether.

Although it’s a non-surgical procedure — not as intensive as, say, organ donation — she still had to prepare her body to donate the stem cells by taking daily injections for five days prior to the donation, which she said made her have flu-like symptoms and back aches.

And she took two separate flights to the donation site, though she wasn’t allowed to disclose to where.

Her husband of 18 years knew there was no point in arguing with Fettkether over the risks, she said.

“He knows I was going to do it no matter what,” she said, calling him “a big supporter.”

The coronavirus pandemic similarly didn’t worry Fettkether.

“Even during COVID-19, people still need to be donating,” she said.

She encouraged people who were interested to sign up at BeTheMatch.org, a global registry of bone marrow and stem cell donors operated through the National Marrow Donor Program. The organization paid for all hospital bills, flights and hotels during the process, Fettkether said.

And though the person receiving her donation is anonymous, Fettkether takes comfort in knowing her donation helped save or prolong their lives.

“Actually, one of my referral sources that I talk with on a weekly basis, she said, ‘Lynn, my dad wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t gotten (a stem cell transplant),’” Fettkether said. “It’s really exciting to be able to help give someone life.”

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