Bone-marrow donor recruiting at Lollapalooza

Love Hope Strength wants to swab your cheek.

By Rebecca Guterman

James Chippendale says he felt “the 11th hour” of his life arrive in November 2000. After he was diagnosed in March of that year with advanced-stage acute leukemia, his best chance for survival was a bone-marrow transplant. But the odds of finding a matching donor are one in 20,000, and doctors were having difficulty. Before undergoing a last-ditch effort of giving stem cells to himself, Chippendale was saved when a match was found: a man in the village of Gütter, Germany. The operation was a success. At 44, Chippendale, an executive vice president at U.K.-based Doodson Insurance Brokerage, is still in remission.

The experience of being pulled back from the edge by a donor’s generosity inspired Chippendale to found the Love Hope Strength Foundation in 2007. Cofounded by Mike Peters, a leukemia survivor and member of the Welsh rock group the Alarm, LHSF hosts bone-marrow and blood stem-cell drives at large-scale events. For the third year, it will have a station at Lollapalooza. Concertgoers wanting to donate can register by having their cheeks swabbed to collect cells for a tissue test.

In a world full of black-tie fund-raising events for cancer research, LHSF gets a younger, less-affluent demographic in an informal environment, executive director Shannon Foley Henn says. “We don’t ask for money,” she says. “We just ask for saliva.”

Early on, the Denver-based nonprofit hosted concerts in exotic locales like Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for cancer care in those areas. It added music fests to the mix three years ago, using the connections of Chippendale’s company, which insures Lolla and other big-name music events, including Austin City Limits. “When Lollapalooza started adding nonprofits as part of the experience,” Chippendale says, “we were first in line to say, ‘Hey, we’d love to come and do a drive.’?”

Situated on the fest’s Green Street next to environmental orgs like the Active Transportation Alliance, Compass Green and Urban Habitat Chicago, LHSF is a bit of an anomaly among the nonprofits at Lolla because of its direct emphasis on saving lives. “Each year, when you see tangible results, like bone-marrow matches, you feel compelled to continue watching those numbers grow,” says Emily Stengel, event-services manager for Lolla producer C3 Presents. And the numbers have grown, from 133 new registrants in 2010 to 200 new ones in 2011. Eight of LHSF’s 270 matches are donors who registered at Lolla. This year, the fest anticipates around 300,000 attendees. “This is the biggest Lollapalooza ever,” LHSF’s Henn says. “This has the potential to be the biggest bone-marrow drive in the history of the United States.”

The donation process is becoming almost as easy as registration. “It was [an inpatient] surgical procedure in the past. Now 85 percent of the time it’s as simple as giving platelets,” Henn says. “Recovery used to be painful, but now you can be back at work the next day.”

That’s not to diminish the serious commitment, both physical and emotional, that a donor must make: a handful of injections of filgrastim, a white-blood-cell-boosting drug to prevent infection, and the possibility of donating to a recipient who doesn’t survive.

Chippendale says he considers his donor a member of the family; his donor’s grandson carries the middle name James in his honor. “The gift of that relationship with the person who saved your life is beyond any you can imagine,” he says. His advice to Lolla-goers? “Have a great time, swab your cheek, listen to some music, and save somebody’s life somewhere in the world.”

The Love Hope Strength Foundation will register donors at Lollapalooza Friday 3–Sunday 5 in Grant Park.


August 2, 2012