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Blood disorder survivor promotes bone marrow registry

Sarah Schuch
Flint Journal

Flint — A bone marrow transplant saved Caitlyn Ulinski’s life five years ago.

Now, as a Kettering University freshman the Romeo native wants to give back and make her experience count. Her goal: to get as many people signed up on the bone marrow registry as possible.

“I would love for more people to at least be aware that this is a thing. Mainly, I want people to sign up. … We want people who will sign up and be willing to help someone if they can. That’s the kind of people we want,” said Ulinski. “(A bone marrow transplant) worked for me. That’s why I’m alive.”

Ulinski was lucky, she said. When a rare blood disorder crept into her life at 14, she needed a bone marrow transplant to live. Her sister was a perfect match.

But that’s not always the case. For others, they hope there’s a match on the registry, Ulinksi said.

Every four minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. And 70 percent of patients do not have a donor in their family. They depend on the nationwide bone marrow registry, Be The Match, according to the website.

Ulinski and students from Delta Tau Delta organized a bone marrow drive at Kettering on March 4. Their goal was to get 25 students on the registry, but by the end of the drive 60 people had registered.

“It was unbelievable. We had a goal of 25. I was expecting about 10. It was amazing,” Ulinski said.

Ulinski’s life-altering journey started her second week of high school. She noticed little brownish red spots all over her arms and her legs.

When she went to visit a dermatologist, she was immediately sent to the hospital. That’s when it was discovered her blood counts were low and her bone marrow wasn’t producing red and white blood cells and platelets like it should be.

After three weeks of blood and platelet transfusions and more tests, she was finally diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder where the body stops producing enough new blood cells.

“It’s hard to grasp it all. It kind of seems unreal. It was just so random out of the blue. I had always been pretty healthy. … (Doctors) said it was extremely rare,” Ulinski said. “They said it was similar to leukemia but not as serious.”

In the United States, only about 600 to 900 people are diagnosed each year, according to the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation.

About two months after she was diagnosed, Ulinski received a bone marrow transplant. She had a week of chemotherapy before the transplant and then was in the hospital for two weeks afterward.

Recovery at home was rough, Ulinski said, mainly because she was homebound and couldn’t go back to school for the rest of the year.

She had to stop playing soccer while in recovery and learned to occupy herself at home.

Fully recovered and doing well, Ulinsky wanted to help others not only understand aplastic anemia but also help them understand the importance of the bone marrow registry.

“From my experience … especially talking to my friends, I realized no one really has any idea. They didn’t know what happened to me. They didn’t know about aplastic anemia,” she said. “I thought if we can do this, (if) we can put a drive together, we can educate people and get a few people on the registry.

“I was really luckily. A lot of people don’t have siblings or siblings that match.”

For more information on Be The Match or how to join the registry, visit