This just in from the recently concluded legislative session: Bipartisanship saves lives!

It happened just over a week ago, when Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, cast the last of his votes to override Gov. Paul LePage’s many and varied vetoes and then made a beeline for Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

There, early the next morning, Plante gave up a liter or so of his bone marrow – enough, God willing, to cure a 17-year-old boy with acute leukemia.

Now for the bipartisan part: None of it would have happened without the dedication of fellow Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough.

“I was thrilled to have him do it,” Volk said. “I can’t imagine the gratitude that (boy’s) family is feeling for Josh right now.”

It all started just under a year ago.

Volk, who lost a cousin to a rare immunologic disease in 2006 after two unsuccessful bone-marrow transplants, has organized two drives over the years for Be the Match, the national bone-marrow registry that now boasts 11 million potential donors and counting.

The first drive, put on by Volk and her husband, Derek, at their Volk Packaging Co. in Biddeford, attracted more than 200 registrants on behalf of her cousin, Blake Vaillancourt, who died at the age of 18.

The second drive, launched last spring for a customer of the Volks whose son had leukemia, drew only about 60 people. Undaunted, Volk took a handful of unused registration kits – a few pieces of paperwork and a cheek swab to get a saliva sample – with her to Augusta.

“I was looking for the younger people,” Volk said, noting that potential donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44. “I figured they’d last longer on the registry that way.”

Now keep in mind that this was the State House, where just about everyone has an agenda, and where someone like Volk, a conservative Republican, doesn’t spend a lot of time hanging out in the lunchroom with her liberal Democratic counterparts.

“Some of them seemed like they thought I was trying to get their DNA for some kind of sinister purpose,” she recalled with a chuckle. “They’d say, ‘Now, why again are you doing this?’”

Along came Plante, 26, a first-term lawmaker who just weeks before had locked horns with Volk during a hearing on a piece of right-to-work legislation. At the same time, he’s the same age Volk’s cousin would be had he survived.

“I’ve got nothing to lose,” Plante told himself as Volk held out the swab right there in the House chamber. “I’ve got to do this.”

So he did – and then promptly forgot about it.

Then came the day in February when Plante’s cellphone rang while he was hard at work legislating. Too busy to answer – the caller ID was from somewhere in Minnesota – he finally called back an hour or so later to hear the words, “We’re calling from Be the Match. And we think you might be a match.”

A long telephone questionnaire followed: “Have you ever been to this or that country? Have you ever had this or that disease? Do you smoke, drink heavily …”

“All of my answers were ‘no,’” recalled Plante, who has actually shed 15 pounds from his previously 200-pound frame since taking office. “My only two vices are soda and french fries – and I have the McDonald’s receipts to prove it.”

Next came a blood test in March. More green lights.

Finally, the registry told Plante he was a 100-percent perfect match with a 17-year old boy who was dying from leukemia. Would he be willing to donate?

Plante didn’t flinch. Willing? By this point, how could he not be willing?

The timing would be critical. The recipient, whose name and location are kept confidential for now, was just coming off a round of chemotherapy and would need the bone marrow within 24 hours if its extraction from Plante’s lower back.

They set their sights on May 2.

Meanwhile, back at the State House, a bill by Rep. Helen Rankin, D-Hiram, requiring health insurers to cover the $150 cost of testing for bone-marrow transplant suitability, was on its way to eventual passage by both the House and Senate.

Plante recalls the measure coming up for discussion at one Democratic caucus. “Now what does this testing entail?” someone asked. “How does it work?”

“I can tell you,” Plante said, rising from his seat. “I’m going through it right now.”

The bill eventually passed. LePage, claiming it was an unfunded mandate that would eventually raise the cost of health insurance, vetoed it.

Which brings us to May 1, also known as the Legislature’s Veto Day.

The Senate overrode LePage’s veto of the bone-marrow bill with ease, 33-2. Heading into the House, however, it was too close to call.

But Plante, of course, voted to override. And Volk, stepping outside her party’s line, did too.

The end result: a 98-48 vote to override – exactly the margin needed for the bill to become law.

Late in the day, Plante’s seatmate, independent Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship, rose to tell the House chamber why Plante would soon be on the turnpike south, headed for Mass. General in Boston. The entire House rose to give Plante a standing ovation.

“I must have been really red-faced,” Plante said. “I felt incredibly humbled by that. It felt really cool having that support heading down.”

His parents, who live in Rochester, New Hampshire, went with him. The two-hour procedure – the bone marrow was extracted through six tiny incisions above Plante’s pelvic bone – left him a little sore as he headed home to Berwick a week ago Saturday.

But he’s back at his job as evening manager at Shaw’s supermarket in Dover, New Hampshire. He’s also hitting the gym again and hoping for the day when they tell him not only that the transplant worked, but that it’s now OK to connect with the young man whose life he saved.

“I really want to have a relationship with this kid,” Plante said. “Think about it. He’s 17. He’s either graduated or headed into his senior year of high school.”

Think about this, too: Plante and Volk, given their tussle over that polarizing piece of right-to-work legislation, easily could have steered clear of each other that day in the House chamber. Yet much to both of their credit, they managed to set aside politics for a life-or-death moment of pure humanity.

“You can get a first impression of somebody and decide, ‘OK, that’s who they really are,’” Plante said. “Or you can say, ‘That’s one impression on a good day or a bad day. What are they like outside of this area on issues that involve different kinds of opinions, different kinds of facts?’”

Volk, along with her whole family, still misses her cousin terribly.

But remember that second donor drive by the Volks that netted so few people? In addition to Plante, another person who stepped forward has been deemed a perfect match for another patient who might now take a step back from death’s door.

What’s more, the customer’s son for whom that drive was held, a young man by the name of Corey LaPlume, found a match of his own from Germany, had a transplant and is now doing just fine.

So go ahead, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 44 and in good health. Log onto and find out how you can join this good-news story in progress.

Just tell them the conservative and the liberal sent you.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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