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Nearly 300 people became potential bone marrow donors at a church in Jamaica Saturday in hopes of saving two young members of their community — along with a minority population in dire need.
Volunteers had the inside of their mouths dabbed with a cotton swab to test their tissue type, and fingers were crossed that someone in the room would be a match for Luis Turnage, 5, who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a form of cancer, last year or Cardozo track star Ahtyana Johnson, 17, who was diagnosed in September with aplastic anemia, a bone marrow disease.
“He can go through 3 1/2 years of chemotherapy or get a bone marrow transplant,” said Sharon Turnage about her son Luis. “We need to do what we can — not just for Luis and Ahtyana — but for all the other kids out there.”
She could not believe the number of people from the neighborhood who filled the Majority Baptist Church, at 115-21 Farmers Blvd. in Jamaica, to commit to donating either bone marrow or stem cells from their blood — commitment that lasts until they are 61 years old.
“There’s so many people that we don’t even know,” Turnage said, on the verge of tears. “I wished for this many people, but I didn’t expect it.”
But there were also many familiar faces.
Victoria Middleton drove 10 hours from Greensboro, N.C., to help her friend after she found out about the event through Facebook.
“Sharon’s my heart,” she said. “You’ve got to support, you can save a life.”
Turnage’s mother also made a surprise visit, flying into Queens from Lawrenceville, Ga.
Johnson had her share of visitors as well. One man decided to leave Philadelphia, where he was conducting business, and drive straight to the church despite never having met Johnson.
David Loyd was the captain of the Cardozo High School track team in 1977, the same high school where Johnson, a senior, excelled in track.
She holds the fifth best time in the nation for the 400-meter dash and even qualified for the World Youth Olympic Games before falling ill.
“I read about the story and I drove back,” said Loyd, who is from the neighborhood, but currently lives in Brooklyn. “This touches home. We’re very proud of our high school, and when I heard how well she had been doing in track, I had to come out.”
The drive was also important to help minorities, a fraction of whom are bone marrow donors.
“There’s a huge under-representation of minorities on the registry,” said Alina Suprunova, a spokeswoman from DKMS, the company responsible for holding drives around the country.
The more genetically similar a donor and recipient are — which includes how close their race and ancestry are — the more likely their bone marrow could be successfully transplanted. But since there is a lack of minorities in the registry, many people in need cannot find a matching marrow donor.
According Suprunova, only 7 percent of the roughly 2.5 million donors in the DKMS registry are of African-American ancestry, 7 percent are Asian, and 10 percent Latino.
“This is affecting the ability of these patients to find matches,” she added.
Bone marrow transplants are important because they can cure cancer and help with bone marrow diseases like the ones contracted by the Johnson and Turnage.
Bone marrow is the liquid inside human bones that produces stem cells. These stem cells in turn produce red and white blood cells, which are vital to one’s immune system — the system that fights off disease.
Donors who missed the drive can still get their tissue tested by mail or donate money by visiting dkmsamericas.org.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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