64-year old leukemia survivor biking 3,500 miles for Be The Match

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021
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Bob Falkenberg is hitting the road to raise funds and awareness for people in life-saving need of a bone marrow transplant.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- As an avid biker and leukemia survivor, 64-year old Bob Falkenberg made a stop in Durham about 2,500 miles into his 3,500-mile bike ride Tuesday.

Falkenberg averages about 50 to 100 miles a day on his bike trip which started in Minnesota and will finish in Florida.

"This ride started in Minneapolis, at the headquarters of Be The Match," Falkenberg said. "And then I made my way east to Boston, from here on to Charlotte and then on to Atlanta, where I had my transplant, and then finishing up down in Jacksonville, Florida."

Falkenberg is hitting the road to raise funds and awareness for people in life-saving need of a bone marrow transplant. Falkenberg hopes he will inspire potential donors to register with Be The Match, a global marrow registry matching donors with patients with life-threatening blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia. Be The Match made the life-saving match for Falkenberg more than a decade ago.

"I had leukemia 12 years ago and a bone marrow transplant, so I'm trying to spread hope to patients that are going through the same thing that I did that, yeah you can get through this, and you can do well," he said.

For this trip, known as the 2021 Lifeblood Tour De TC, Falkenberg designed his stops at as many transplant centers as possible. Often, he interacts with patients, and some doctors will meet Falkenberg and ride along with him to show support. He captures a lot of media attention along the way which is part of his goals as he hopes to raise awareness about the need for donors, especially minorities and mixed-race donors.

"I had 13 matches when they went out and searched the registry," Falkenberg said. "So, being white, that's not uncommon. But, for Black and African American patients, it's only now a 29% chance that they'll find a single donor on the registry. And so there's a lot of searching patients. And, there's a lot of kids with sickle cell. The transplant is a cure for sickle cell, and there's a lot of kids that have these horrible pain episodes and whatnot continually because of that. And, it can be cured but they're having trouble finding a match. The only way that's going to get fixed, is if we get more African American donors."

Registration involves a cheek swab and donors don't have to give bone marrow until they are matched with a patient in need. The process is similar to donating blood.

"It's just like donating plasma," Falkenberg said. "You sit in a chair, and you have an IV in each arm, and blood cycles through a machine, and they come up with one IV bag of stem cells, and that's what the recipient gets."

Falkenberg is also hoping his 3,500-mile bike ride will help raise funds for Be The Match. The organization's patient assistance program fell 900,000 dollars short in funding due to the pandemic.