Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Even Tacoma jail inmates want to help state trooper with cancer

Renee Padgett has been battling a rare form of cancer since 2012, much of that time spent at Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle. Her only option now is a stem cell transplant from a matching donor — and none has been found.
Renee Padgett has been battling a rare form of cancer since 2012, much of that time spent at Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle. Her only option now is a stem cell transplant from a matching donor — and none has been found. Courtesy

From the time she was 14, Renee Padgett wanted to be a cop, and by the time she was 21, she was a trooper for the Washington State Patrol.

“They had such cool uniforms,” she joked this week.

Padgett is 45 now. Still loves the job. She and her family — partner Marcella Egan and two children — share a Renton home.

What they all want has been compressed to one thing over the past three years.

They want Padgett to live.

A poster child for good health, Padgett was in great physical condition until May 2012, when pain sent her to an emergency room. The diagnosis: multiple myeloma.

Within months, six of her vertebrae had compressed. Doctors injected her spine with a cement-like substance.

That was in 2012.

Today, Padgett is on her seventh round of chemotherapy, the strongest dose yet, as doctors at Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle try to keep the disease in check.

That is the best they can do now, and Padgett’s options are down to one. She needs a stem-cell transplant from a donor whose marrow exactly matches her own. The odds of finding it are close to a million to one.

The State Patrol has held donor drives, as have groups in Olympia and Renton, all of the results being fed to BetheMatch.org — the national stem-cell registry.

No one tested so far matches Padgett, but those potential donors are now on file and could save someone else’s life.

A bit more than two weeks ago, as TV stations covered Padgett’s story, Tracy Martin saw a broadcast. Martin was an unlikely candidate to help an ailing cop.

He’s in the Pierce County Jail, a trustee. That means he’s among the best behaved inmates who work throughout the jail instead of being confined to their living area all day.

In a letter that Martin wrote to The News Tribune, Martin described the scene in the jail as other trustees learned about Trooper Padgett.

“One of us said, ‘I would give that trooper bone marrow if I were a match,’” Martin wrote. “So we decided to put our money where our mouth is.”

Martin and other trustees volunteered to be tested. Lt. P. Jackson said the list topped out at about 40 inmates. Martin was not, however, allowed to do a phone interview with The News Tribune, and details about his incarceration were withheld.

Padgett was excited when told about the supportive group behind bars in Tacoma.

“It’s awesome to me that they’re willing to be tested,” she said.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department tried to make the testing happen, though there were obvious complications. For one, testing would have to be done in the jail; the inmates weren’t allowed to leave.

The test can be a simple blood draw, but going through the national registry online is even simpler. Sign up at BetheMatch.org and a kit will be mailed with a swab and a return envelope.

Swab the inside of a cheek, send the swab back to the organization, and have it tested.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said that’s what the jail tried to do — get those swabs sent to the jail to test 40 men.

But there was a problem: The national registry wouldn’t allow the inmates to be tested.

“Anyone incarcerated is ineligible to be tested because there’s a higher risk for disease in close quarters,” said spokeswoman Nicole Mulcahy. “And because those incarcerated would not be able to leave the facility to complete donor procedures.”

Padgett took the news in stride. She has dealt with worse.

“I try to keep a positive attitude,” she said. “I’ve tried to keep our lives as normal as possible. I’ve planned all my treatments around the kids’ soccer games or school plays, and I haven’t missed an event yet.”

For almost two years, she was in remission and spent that time working hard to get into the kind of shape that would allow her to resume her trooper duties. In January, two weeks before her return-to-uniform date, tests showed the cancer had returned.

“It was more aggressive when it came back,” Egan said.

Now, the chemo has kept the cancer in check, but doctors acknowledge that no treatment will cure Padgett.

“A stem-cell transplant is the only option, and I’m waiting for a donor match,” Padgett said.

If you’re not an inmate, you can help. Register to be tested. If a match is found, the transplant process is a series of blood draws over five days.

Time matters. If the chemotherapy fails to keep her cancer in check, Padgett’s prognosis is 18 months, maximum.

For more information

To learn how to be tested for a bone marrow match, host a donor drive or give financially, go online to BetheMatch.org

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