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NASCAR Star Jeff Gordon’s Healthy Life on and off the Track

What drives this champion to win on the racetrack, as a husband and a dad, and in his quest to help kids with life-threatening conditions?

The Jeff Gordon Foundation continued...

One of the many benefactors of The Jeff Gordon Foundation is the National Marrow Donor Program, based in Minneapolis. An estimated 10,000 people a year are stricken with diseases for which bone marrow transplants are the only cure. Most suffer from forms of leukemia or lymphoma, but more than 70 different diseases are treated with marrow transplants. The NMDP connects patients with donors and doctors, as well as supporting them during treatment and through the lengthy recuperation period.

“We are asked to participate when there is no other cure,” says NMDP Director Jeffrey Chell, MD. According to Chell, only 25% of those needing transplants find a match within their immediate family. Most have to depend on strangers. That’s where the NMDP fits in. One of its priorities is recruiting donors for a marrow registry. When a person donates marrow, a hollow needle is used to withdraw liquid marrow from the pelvic bone. Soreness in the lower back, discomfort while walking, and tiredness are the most common aftereffects, and they normally last a few days. The body generally takes four to six weeks to replace the donated marrow.

Gordon himself has registered with the NMDP. “Jeff’s DNA is in the registry, and he could be called on at any time to be a donor,” Kriger says. “In fact, he has gotten all of us on the foundation staff to register as donors. Actually, it was a pretty easy thing to do when you meet some of these kids.”

The foundation, which turns 10 next year, is already planning its strategy for its second decade. Its core mission of providing funds to the nation’s most prominent centers for pediatric research and care will remain the same, and, says Kriger, Gordon will likely become even more involved.  Chell agrees: “He understands the complexities of the problems and communicates them so well to a broad spectrum of people. He’s gone to Capitol Hill and served as an advocate there, helping members of Congress understand the scope of the issue.”

The Rising Need for Children’s Medical Care

This is a crucial time to address children’s health. The number of U.S. children with chronic health conditions has risen dramatically in the past four decades, according to a study published in June 2007 in The Journal of the American Medical Association. “We have 80 million children in America today, and about 8%, or 6.5 million children and adolescents, have chronic conditions that interfere with regular daily activities,” says James M. Perrin, MD, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the lead author of the study. The top three problems are obesity, asthma, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In addition, the June 2008 edition of Pediatrics reports on the results of a new study that tracked childhood cancer cases in the United States from 2001 to 2003. Leukemia is the most common. Although childhood cancer is rare, it’s the leading cause of disease-related death for U.S. children. “It’s a scary thing,” Gordon says of childhood illness, “but it’s great to see success stories.”

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