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Walk draws attention to bone marrow donation

Jeana Moore and Jada Bascom take a walk last summer.
Jeana Moore and Jada Bascom take a walk last summer.

Jeana Moore walks with purpose. She walks to talk about her granddaughter, Jada Bascom, and move as many people as she can to take one step toward saving a life.

As a newborn, Jada nearly died from acute myeloid leukemia in 2007. Five rounds of chemotherapy and hundreds of blood transfusions kept her alive, but only a bone marrow transplant could save her, and no one in the United States was a match.

When she was 7 months old, Jada received that life-saving bone marrow transplant from a man in Germany. In gratitude and an effort to give back, Moore went on a 15-month, 4,434-mile walk across the United States to raise awareness about the bone marrow registry. She finished in January 2011.

On May 1, Moore will lace up her boots and set out again, this time walking for awareness across Germany, the Swiss Alps and through Italy, from the Baltic Sea to the Adriac Sea.

As she walks with her reflective vest and backpack she’ll keep telling Jada’s story, working with the German bone marrow donor center, the Swiss Blood Stem Cell Foundation and the Italian Bone Marrow Registry to line up bone marrow registry drives along the way, much like she did in the States.

Jada’s bone marrow donor, Torsten Huber, will join Moore as she crosses the Alps.

“I want to do it in honor of Torsten and to continue this life-saving work, having seen clearly that matches are made all around the world from country to country, with no barriers,” Moore said. “That’s one beautiful thing with this program. Someone in America might be a match for someone in China. Countries freely participate. There are no boundaries.”

Huber joined the registry during a bone marrow drive in Germany for a woman with leukemia. He later learned he was a match for a little girl in the United States and gladly donated.

“For me it was not a real big thing. Of course I registered to help somebody,” wrote Huber in an email. “But to get the letter about being maybe a match comes always unexpected. There are many thoughts about the person, which is described in Germany sometimes as a genetic twin. … I’m really glad that I could help Jada. It is a pleasure for me to get to know the whole family and to stay in touch.”

Both Huber and Jada’s family wanted to contact each other but had to wait two years due to privacy restrictions. When they corresponded, Moore was in the middle of her walk. Huber came to the United States to meet Moore and join her in New York for the last miles of her Steps-To-Marrow walk.

“My personal highlight in New York was while sightseeing in Manhattan on Sunday, after meeting Jada for the first time on Thursday,” said Huber. “Jada came to me, took my hand and we walked hand in hand on Broadway.”

Moore said she was filled with gratitude. “There are no words you can say to someone who has given the gift of life to a child that you love dearly,” she said. “We can thank him over and over again. We consider him to be a hero. But he says his act was small and anyone would do it.”

The families stayed in touch, and Moore and Huber began planning another walk, this time in Europe. Huber said he suggested the sea-to-sea walk “because it sounds much more impressive. And who could do this if not Jeana?”

“I’m very excited to be out on the road again and walking and, of course, there is always the joy of meeting people,” said Moore, adding that like her first walk, she’s relying on strangers for lodging and assistance, not knowing where she will eat or sleep.

“I anticipate I’ll be welcomed warmly in Germany, Switzerland and Italy,” she said. “The American people were amazing with taking care and helping me along the way. It’s a wonderful thing to see how people will extend themselves to help each other and help us accomplish our goal of getting the word out.”

Moore expects to walk about 1,300 miles between May and mid-September, averaging between 250 and 300 miles each month.

“Knowing how horrible the economic situation is for everyone, we’re asking for a little bit from many people. A penny per mile would be $2.50 to $3 per month,” she said. “The greatest challenge is funding the project. My passion is to really educate people and get them inspired to say, ‘I want to be a bone marrow donor. I want to save a life.’ ”

Since her first walk, Moore’s efforts have registered 3,635 people, and she’s learned of 20 bone marrow matches that were made as a result.

As for Jada, she turns 5 on April 16.  “We are so pleased with her progress. She will be starting kindergarten in the fall,” Moore said. “Jada was saved and we want everyone else to have that opportunity.”