Hillsboro family inspires bone marrow drive

Corey Burton with his sister Collette Haslett during a recent stay at KU Med Center. Provided photo
Corey Burton with his sister Collette Haslett during a recent stay at KU Med Center. Provided photo
When a former Hillsboro resident was diagnosed with leukemia, many wanted to help but weren’t sure how. But now, thanks to some brainstorming and the Gift of Life organization, the residents of Marion County have a chance to see if they can help.

Corey Burton is a 47 year old man who now lives in Ellis with his wife and two children. Corey is well known in the Hillsboro area from his time here. Many also know his sister Collette Haslett (and husband Jeff) who currently teaches fifth grade at Hillsboro Elementary School and is also an assistant coach for the Hillsboro High School volleyball team.

“Corey previously taught business and computer classes for 9 years at Hillsboro High school and was also the Hillsboro Middle School principal for 3 years,” said Burton’s wife, Amy. “Corey also was the high school and middle school head wrestling coach, high school and middle school assistant track coach, and middle school assistant football coach.”

Burton and his family moved to Ellis where he has been serving as a principal in a local school. His normal life was suddenly interrupted this summer when he received a life changing diagnosis.

“Corey was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on July 12th and is currently receiving treatment at KU Medical Center in Kansas City. His cancer is currently in remission following one round of chemo; however, his cancer has a FLT3-TKD mutation which requires him to undergo a bone marrow transplant in order to increase his chances of keeping the cancer in remission,” said Burton. “Unable to find a familial match, the doctors searched the Be the Match national bone marrow registry and found 60,000 potential donors. Currently, there are several of those potential donors undergoing preliminary tests to determine if they would be the best match for Corey. However, we have met people at KU Med that aren’t as fortunate with finding potential matches.”

Many in the community there and here in Hillsboro have already been supporting fundraisers and other benefits to help the Burton family. But a few residents grew frustrated that is wasn’t enough.

“Jeff Haslett and I had a conversation at the MS football scrimmage about Corey and their struggle to find a match. We talked about all of the family getting tested and they could not find a family match so they went to the national registry. This lead to a conversation about how it would it be great for a group or organization to set up a bone marrow drive for donors to be on the national registry both for Corey and for anyone else who would be in need,” said Danielle Rogers, lifetime resident of Hillsboro. “We talked about various educational and religious groups that it would be a great event to organize and that’s pretty much how our conversation ended.”

But Rogers kept thinking it all. She mentioned the conversation to Becky Walsh, State Farm Insurance Agent in Hillsboro and Marion.

“Becky and I were discussing it a week later and we said why don’t we organize this. No reason to try to pass this off on anyone else,” said Rogers.

They spoke with Haslett to make sure it was something she and her family would like to see happen.

“She seemed excited about the idea. Corey has a couple potential matches that they are doing more testing on. However to build the national registry is beneficial for all. There are two testing/donation organizations, Gift of Life and Be The Match. I reached out to both organizations and only GOL got back with me, so we went that direction. There was some back and forth phone conversations. GOL made it very easy,” said Rogers.

According to their website, Gift of Life believes every person battling blood cancer deserves a second chance at life, and they are determined to make it happen. They are passionate about engaging the public to help get everyone involved in curing blood cancer.

Gift of Life is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida and is an international public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry. The organization is a world leader in facilitating transplants for children and adults suffering from life-threatening diseases like leukemia and lymphoma.

While there are many ways to get involved and help through Gift of Life, one of the most effective things they do is coordinate drives.

“Gift of Life sends swab kits to organizers of the event. We have to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to be the organizers and once our kits arrive we’ll have a telephone conference training session with the gift of life people,” said Rogers.

The drive will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on September 22 at the State Farm Insurance office at 114 N. Main in Hillsboro. All it takes is a fast and easy mouth swab. Refreshments are provided for those who participate.

“Just show up and be swabbed and spread the word. Get swabbed and have the opportunity to make a life saving contribution not only for an individual but to everyone who knows or cares for the potential patient,” said Rogers. “We will also be taking collections for both GOL (they have a $60 expense for everyone who swabs so the need is real) and for any medical and travel expenses for the Burtons.”

Anyone can come in for the mouth swab although those 18-45 are the ones most needed. It’s a simple way to get involved and potentially save a life.

“Get younger people involved, ask college kids, 18 year olds and younger adults, to come with you. Spread the word,” said Rogers. “We’re really hoping this has huge community support. We have 150 test kits headed our way and I’m hoping that we use them all and have to have people register to have more sent. There is a backup plan for when we run out!”

While the desire to help Corey Burton specifically is what jumpstarted the drive, the potential to help many more exists. Getting a mouth swab done can potentially match you with anyone in need in the national registry.

“Even if you’re on the national registry, if you are someone’s match you still have the option to opt out,” said Rogers.

And there are other ways to help the Burton family as well.

“Friends of Corey and his family have set up a t-shirt and bracelet fundraiser to help with medical expenses. If interested in purchasing a T-shirt or bracelet, Collette Haslett is able to provide further information. There is also a medical fund set up at Equity Bank in Corey’s name if people would like to make a cash donation,” said Amy Burton.

“Please consider coming to the drive and making a difference,” said Rogers.

If you are unable to attend on the Sept 22 time, arrangements can be made to accommodate another swab time. And donations will be taken leading up to the event as well as the day of the event. To schedule an alternate time to get tested, to donate or for any questions, call Becky or Danielle at 620-947-5900. Monetary donations can be made for Corey and the Gift of Life.