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Community, friends coming to aid of leukemia victim

By JUDY JENKINS, Gleaner staff

November 24, 2004 - Mama was right. What goes around does come around. The proof of that is particularly evident in the case of a local special education teacher who is fighting her second battle with acute myelogenous leukemia at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Sarah Hurt, 46, is one of those people who draws comments like these from family, from friends and from co-workers at Spottsville Elementary School:

"Sarah is a wonderful, wonderful person and has a very strong faith," says Spottsville School counselor Lynn Dawson. "When you need anything, you can count on Sarah."

"Sarah is an amazing person," says the teacher's good friend Emma Todd, the assistant director at Marsha's Place. "She gives 150 percent of herself to her students. Any of their parents will vouch for that. She's a beautiful person."

"How would I describe my mother?" asks Sarah's 22-year-old daughter, Lindsey Sepp. "She's outgoing and giving. She loves to help others. She's funny, too, and her students get a kick out of her. She's a strong, strong Christian, and that's what's seeing her through."

Sarah has helped others, and now the favor is being returned.

As of Monday afternoon, 175 of her fellow teachers in the public school system have indicated they will have a blood test to determine if they could be a bone marrow match for Sarah, who needs a bone marrow transplant to strengthen her chances for a full recovery.

By now, it's likely many more teachers have responded to the e-mail that explained Sarah's situation and asked if they'd have that simple test.

And they aren't the only ones. I'm also told that some Brenntag employees have volunteered to be tested.

Sarah completes a 10-day chemotherapy course Friday, and is expected to go into remission. That period of remission following chemo is the "window" of opportunity for a bone marrow transplant.

Sarah's family members have been tested to see if they can be donors, but they don't match enough key factors to be candidates for that procedure. Nor is there a match on the international bone marrow registries.

Ms. Todd, who is coordinating the search for an ideal donor, says that before testing can be done, it's necessary to raise about $5,000, which will be matched by the National Bone Marrow Foundation. Each individual test, Emma said, costs $65 and at least 150 people need to be tested. That's $9,750.

Brainstorming is taking place to decide on fundraisers for that project, but the public can also help by donating to the Sarah Sepp Hurt Fund at Ohio Valley National Bank. That money is earmarked for the tests, which will bring special techs from the Brown Cancer Center in Louisville to Henderson. Testing will be done at either First Baptist Church or The Heart Group offices.

Ed Hurt, Sarah's husband of four years, said her spirit is strong and Lindsey said Sarah is deeply touched by the outpouring of support for her. "She can't understand how so many people want to help her." Lindsey, a psychology major, graduated from Transylvania last spring. Sarah's younger daughter, Allison Sepp, 19, is a sophomore at UK.

Lindsey said two former Henderson residents, Tammy and Brad Lipsey, are living in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville and have generously opened their home to the family.

Sarah was initially diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) -- one of four categories of leukemia -- in March 2003 following a period of fever and fatigue that she'd thought was probably flu. She had chemotherapy and went into a remission that lasted until this month.

AML is a malignant disease of the bone marrow and blood characterized by the uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. Each year, according to the national Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, there are about 11,920 new cases of AML diagnosed in the U.S.

Thanks largely to bone marrow transplants, the 5-year survival rate for leukemia has more than tripled and is now at the 46 percent mark. Currently, there are nearly 188,000 Americans living with leukemia.

By coincidence, November is National Bone Marrow Month.


Sarah's church, New Harvest Church, is working on fund-raising ideas. If you'd like to help in some way, call Emma Todd at 826-9674 or 826-4936.

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