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Manlius: Father continues mission after daughter's death

Warm. Compassionate. Brilliant. Gorgeous.

Words family and friends use to describe Natasha Collins, a longtime Manlius resident who last year lost her battle to leukemia.

"[Natasha] was as close to perfect as someone can be," said her high school friend Genevieve Pandori. "She had such a great attitude and was always upbeat and positive. Natasha was truly someone who was beautiful on the inside and out."

Collins was 25 years old when she was first diagnosed. Her chance for a cure, however, was dramatically lessened because she was of mixed heritage; her father an African-American, her mother an Irish American. The relation to a cure is almost always a direct result of being able to locate a perfectly or partially matched bone marrow donor.

It is impossible for people of mixed heritage to find a perfectly matched bone marrow donor due to their genetic diversity. Those people of mixed heritage that are fortunate enough to find a partially matched donor frequently suffer or die from graft versus host related diseases.

Collins died from complications involving a partially matched bone marrow transplant to treat her leukemia. But there was an alternative. Had she been able to receive a cord blood transplant she would likely still be alive today. Yale-New Haven Hospital, where Collins was attending medical school and also received her transplant, however, only performs bone marrow transplants for adults.

Cord blood is obtained from the umbilical cord that links a mother and child. The blood present in the umbilical cord is a rich source of the same stem cells found in bone marrow.

"Partially matched cord blood stem cells from an unrelated donor, however, offer the advantage of never causing the life-threatening responses that frequently occur when partially matched, unrelated bone marrow stem cells are used for a transplant," said Dr. Tedd Collins, a clinical immunologist and Natasha's father. "That means your chance of surviving a transplant and, therefore, your disease, is much, much greater."

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