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This Gift Lasts For A Lifetime

Mon., Dec. 2, 1996

Michelle Carew was a beautiful young woman. She died last spring at age 18. Leukemia took her. Michelle’s father, Rod Carew, is a Hall of Fame baseball player and coach. But neither fame nor money could save his beloved daughter.

A bone-marrow transplant might have saved Michelle. But because of her mixed ethnic background - Panamanian and Russian-Jewish - a match proved impossible. Since 1979, when bone marrow was first successfully transplanted between two unrelated people, about 2.5 million people have registered with the National Marrow Donor Program.

Countless victims of leukemia, aplastic anemia and other fatal diseases have been saved, or their lives were extended, because strangers donated their bone marrow.

Most of those registered are Caucasian, making it relatively easy for Caucasians to find matches.

But only about 500,000 on the registry are people of color. This means that it is much more difficult for African-Americans, American Indians, Hispanics and Asians to find bone marrow from an unrelated person.

The registry is especially low on American Indian donors; only 31,000 are registered and only 27 patients have actually received bone-marrow transplants.

Michelle Carew’s high-profile case helped raise awareness and 70,000 donors came forward, but not in time to save her life. Closer to home, 5-year-old Sam Mobley awaits a donor.

His aunt is Dr. Susan Coffin of Spokane. Sam was born in Colombia and adopted as an infant by Coffin’s relatives.

He lives in Oregon and has battled leukemia for two years.

His birth mother and half-siblings were found in Colombia, but none was a match. Now the family hopes and prays for an unrelated donor.

The odds are not good; only 1,350 South Americans are in the registry. “When you get news like that, you’re just a zombie,” Coffin said.

Because the shortage of donors from minority populations is so acute, special efforts are under way to recruit more donors.

For instance, the National Marrow Donor Program is hoping to add 9,000 new American Indian and Alaska Natives to the registry. The “Keep The Circle Strong” campaign is targeting native populations in 14 states, including Washington and Idaho. Call (800) 526-7809 for more information on the campaign.

Registering as a donor is fairly easy. Potential donors take a blood test and complete a consent form.

Your local blood bank can give more details. But if you are chosen as a donor, more is involved.

Potential donors receive medical counseling to make certain they understand the risks involved. If the donor says yes, the surgical procedure requires anesthesia and in most cases, an overnight hospital stay.

So it is not a decision to be made in haste. But we would encourage men and women in our community to consider being bone-marrow donors. And we’d especially encourage people of color to contemplate giving to others in this way. The need is great and the rewards of giving even greater.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board

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