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Blood Donors, Marrow Registrants Give in Name of Lansdale Youth

Matt Knoebel, 13, a Penndale Middle Schooler, is down to 0.3 percent of acute myeloid leukemia in his body. As a way to pay it forward for all the blood transfusions, his family organized an American Red Cross blood and platelet drive and National Marro

When a mustache is drawn on his surgical mask, you know teenager Matt Knoebel was feeling all right.

The Penndale Middle Schooler — who celebrated his 13th birthday on Friday — was having a spastic conversation with his friends inside a room on the grounds of Corpus Christi Church before being asked how he felt to be surrounded by people donating to save the lives of others.

With his hazel eyes shining out from above the mustachioed mask, the towheaded Lansdale boy darted his look around for a bit, and then settled on one, drawn out "Good."

Matt is a success story, thus far, in his battle with acute myeloid leukemia. In a matter of about 10 weeks, his leukemia has gone from 100 percent to 0.03 percent.

"I do what I have to do to get better," he said. "If I have to do it to get better, I'll do it."

Through all the chemotherapy treatments and tests, ever since his diagnosis on Oct. 28, 2012, Matt has called the four walls and bed at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia home.

He's spent his days playing "Minecraft" on his new computer, watching comedy movies and DVDs and, just, hanging out. He'd much rather be racking up points on "Modern Warfare 3" at home.

Saturday was a change of environment for Matt, who was right at home surrounded by family, friends and strangers.

Matt's family organized an American Red Cross blood and platelet drive and bone marrow donor registration Saturday afternoon at the Upper Gwynedd church.

"I'm feeling very good and very happy today," said Matt's mother, Christina Simpson. "We are raising awareness, adding donors to the registry and collecting blood. We are paying it forward for all the blood Matt has received."

Since his diagnosis, Matt has received 16 red blood cell transfusions and six platelet transfusions.

A bone marrow transplant is imminent; it will occur in the springtime as soon as chemotherapy is completed.

"Everything told, the doctors said he will have several potential donors and they will find the best one," Simpson said.

In Matt's first phase of chemo, leukemia levels dropped from 100 percent to 4.1 percent. The second phase dropped in further to 0.3 percent. Phase three will occur on Monday for about six weeks. Each phase is about five weeks, Simpson said. They were able to track the leukemia levels via a "very senstive test a new technology," Simpson said, called a minimum residual disease test.

Tom Coughlin, fiance to Matt's mother, Christina Simpson, said 90 people had pre-registered for the event. By 12:30 p.m., they were pushing 60 people.

About 12 people had signed up strictly to give platelets, he said.

"It's a very good turnout," he said.

The Red Cross had lain about eight cushioned tables inside the former church space at Corpus Christi. Nurses tended to each donor, while nearby, other nurses took blood pressures and triaged the donors. EMTs were at standby inside the space as well.

"It's awesome," said Matt's grandmother's cousin Cindy Harrison, of Warminster, a certified former EMT with Warminster Ambulance Corps. "I donate because I feel that I'm helping somebody. If someone lives by receiving my blood, that's great."

Boston resident Melissa Morris made the trip out to support Matt and his family. It was her first time giving blood in seven years.

"Your friend's son has leukemia — this is something you must do," she said of giving blood. "I can't imagine being a mother and having that feeling."

Morris said Matt will get better.

"This will just be something that happened to him when he was young," she said. 

Morris said her reason for giving blood the very first time in her life was to just help other people.

"People need blood. It's one of those things that can't be manufactured. It's a need," she said.

While the blood donations went on in one half of the room, the other half was reserved for Be A Match. 

The bone marrow donor registrant had submission forms and swabbing set up at the event. 

This is the third biggest event organized by Matt's family and friends since his diagnosis. The first was a bake sale fundraiser organized by his neighborhood. The second was a pancake breakfast fundraiser at Applebee's in Hatfield.

Simpson said some other fundraisers are in the works, including a potential beef and beer.

"Thank you to all of Lansdale. There were so many donors and supporters. Even people we don't even know," she said. "The outpouring of support for him has been amazing."

The bone marrow registry continues Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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