Bone marrow drives planned for Duke Raleigh CEO David Zaas who is battling leukemia

David Zaas
David Zaas

Duke Raleigh Hospital CEO David Zaas has taken a leave of absence as he battles leukemia and participates in a clinical trial in Maryland. Zaas’s friends and colleagues are scheduling donor matching drives to try to find a potential donor for a bone marrow transplant.

Zaas came down with flu-like symptoms in mid-January that steadily deteriorated into fatigue and shortness of breath. On Feb. 14, he was diagnosed with leukemia caused by a rare gene mutation, according to updates posted on his CaringBridge page.

“After 15 years of walking the halls of Duke as a physician, it feels really strange to be here as a patient,” Zaas wrote in his first post 24 hours after his diagnosis. “I just want to focus on getting out of bed everyday and doing what I can to stay strong.”

Zaas, 45, was named CEO of the 186-bed Duke Raleigh Hospital in 2014. He was previously a Duke University Department of Medicine professor, a chief medical officer and a medical director for lung transplants. Zaas and his wife, Aimee, have two sons, one in elementary school and the other in middle school.

Leigh Bleecker, chief financial officer at Duke Raleigh Hospital, is serving as the hospital’s interim president until Zaas’s return.

Zaas’s friends and colleagues have been busy setting up donor match drives throughout the Triangle. About 80 people showed up for a hastily called donor drive Friday at Duke Raleigh Hospital.

The next donor match drive for Zaas, as posted on a website run by Be The Match, is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the N.C. State Brickyard, 2610 Cates Avenue in Raleigh. It will be between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The bone marrow match is determined by a simple cheek swab.

Be The Match is a national organization based in Minneapolis, Minn., that matches transplant patients with potential donors. According to the organization’s website, typically just 1 out of 430 volunteers will qualify to donate bone marrow.

The Levin Jewish Community Center in Durham is hosting a donor match drive for Zaas from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on March 2.

Just two days after his initial blog post, Zaas arrived at Johns Hopkins University to begin a clinical trial based on personalized gene therapy.

Zaas is able to walk and get around despite nausea, fevers and fatigue resulting from his illness and chemotherapy treatment.

Zaas posted his most recent blog entry Thursday. He said he expects to have to take the drug being tested in the clinical trial for the rest of his life.

“I am feeling very optimistic that we are headed to a cure,” Zaas wrote.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski

What you can do

If you want to see if you’re a match, you’ll need to complete a registration at the site, and are asked to bring personal identification such as a driver’s license. Donors must be aged 18 to 44, the optimal age for marrow transplant donors. Those aged 45 to 60 can join the registry online to be screened for eligibility.