Hank and Cydne Collins are using a Web site hosted by an organization called CaringBridge to keep family and friends informed as he recovers from a bone marrow transplant.

Bridge to Caring

Sharing information with family and friends during an illness can be draining, especially if the condition continues for any length of time.

Cydne and Hank Collins of Medford have been using a Web-based service called CaringBridge to keep everyone current on Hank's health since he was hospitalized in November. The Minnesota-based nonprofit organization creates personalized Web sites for people who have serious health conditions. Patients post information about their condition, and family members and friends can send messages to an online "guest book."

"The wonderful thing about CaringBridge is that it helps people stay in touch," Cydne Collins said Tuesday from her husband's hospital room at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

Hank Collins, Jackson County's director of health and human services, was diagnosed in March 2007 with myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition in which the bone marrow stops producing red and white blood cells. He was admitted to OHSU for a bone marrow transplant in November, and had been hospitalized 78 days as of Wednesday.

Over that time, he's received 650 messages at his site, which has been visited nearly 11,000 times.

"I think most of those (visits) are family members checking in twice a day," Cydne joked.

"The support has been truly awesome," Hank said during a brief telephone conversation.

His road to recovery has been difficult. Like many transplant recipients, Hank developed graft-versus-host disease, which occurs when a donor's immune cells attack the recipient's body. He's living in isolation in the hospital, visitors are restricted, and his diet is strictly regulated.

"He's on a pretty tight leash," Cydne said. "They're still trying to manage the graft-versus-host disease."

Well-intentioned gifts of plants, flowers and food items can't be accepted, she said.

Friends told the Collinses about CaringBridge before Hank entered the hospital. The service began about 10 years ago when a Minnesota woman helped friends use electronic communication to share information about a health crisis. The concept evolved to include individual Web sites, pictures and guest books that would enhance communication and reduce the need for endless telephone calls.

Over the past decade, the concept that grew to become CaringBridge has hosted more than 90,000 individual Web sites. More than 13 million messages have been sent to guest books, and the sites have been visited more than 500,000,000 times.

No advertising is allowed, and the service is supported by contributions from individuals and hospitals, said Mike Soricelli, a spokesman for CaringBridge. He said about 90 percent of the donations come from people who had their own sites and want to keep it available for others.

Soricelli said each site can be customized to suit an individual's privacy needs. People who don't necessarily want everyone to see their site can limit access with passwords.

Hank's site includes a journal, written mostly by Cydne, that has been praised for its candor.

"I've heard comments admiring their courage for being as open as they've been with this information," said Viki Brown, Jackson County's director of public health services. "That takes a level of real honesty. Not everybody would be comfortable with that."

Brown said the site has also served as a point of connection for people who have known Hank in the past and are now scattered across the country.

Cydne said messages from well-wishers have helped both her and Hank through their long ordeal.

"I print (the messages) every two or three days and read them to Hank," she said. "It's wonderfully reinforcing to know people care about Hank. It gives me strength."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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