Cancer awareness group helps Nuggets fans save lives
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By Aaron J. Lopez, Nuggets.com, 5-23-12

Saving a life can be as easy as attending a Denver Nuggets game.

Throughout the 2011-12 Nuggets season, hundreds of people provided a DNA cheek swab to register with Love Hope Strength, a cancer awareness group that helps match cancer patients with potential bone-marrow donors.

“The more people who register, the more chance we have to get great matches and the better chance we have of improving the process and saving people’s lives,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “It’s a no-brainer to me.”

As a two-time cancer survivor (prostate in 2005 and head and neck in 2010), Karl partnered with LoveHopeStrength when he launched the George Karl Foundation in March 2012.

“For the past few years, we’ve been under coach Karl’s nose at Pepsi Center doing bone marrow drives,” LHS executive director Shannon Foley said. “When he’s working, we can be saving lives. We’re excited to get him involved in what we’re doing because people listen when he speaks.”

Foley sends e-mail updates to Karl, telling him how many bone-marrow matches there were nationwide in a given month. In 2010, there was a match from someone who registered with LHS at the Nuggets’ game against the San Antonio Spurs.

Coach Karl

“They do a great job,” Karl said. “It makes you feel good and it’s a pretty simple thing.”

Karl, whose son Coby is a thyroid cancer survivor, believes bone-marrow registration should be mandatory in the United States. The process could be handled in a matter of minutes as a requirement of receiving a driver’s license.

“I have no idea why we don’t make it an incentive for every American to register their bone marrow,” Karl said. “That doesn’t mean you will be called, and if you are called, it doesn’t mean you will have to do it. You could live until 80 and you might never get a phone call.”

For those who are identified as a possible match, they are asked to donate blood for additional testing. Advances in medicine and technology have made the complete process easier and less invasive. It rarely involves an overnight hospital stay.

“If you had to be the donor in the past, it was somewhat painful. It’s not that way anymore,” Karl said. “You have to spend a couple hours in the hospital, but it’s for a good cause. I wouldn’t even know how I would feel if I helped save someone’s life. It would be pretty powerful to me.”

Co-founded in 2007 by leukemia survivors Mike Peters of the rock band The Alarm and CSI Entertainment president James Chippendale, Love Hope Strength has registered more than 19,000 people to be potential bone marrow donors, leading to 260 matches (and counting) worldwide.

In addition to registration drives at Nuggets games, LHS also is present at Colorado Avalanche hockey games, Colorado Mammoth lacrosse matches, Colorado Rapids soccer matches, as well as concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Foley said more bone marrow donors have been found at the Mile High Music Festival at DSG Park than at any other event in the world.

“The big thing we’re trying to do is tell people how easy it is to register,” Foley said. “In today’s economic world, it’s hard to ask people get involved by giving money. This is a way to get involved without digging into their pockets.”

For more information on Love Hope Strength and how to donate or register, visit LoveHopeStrength.org.

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*Image provided by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

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