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Bone Marrow Donation -- The Gift of Life, May 16th

Irene Katrandjian, a 52-year-old mother in New Jersey who is suffering from Non-Hodgkins Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma, is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant with no matching donors at this time.

There will be a registration for Irene at a bone marrow drive this Sunday, May 16 from 12 noon to 5 p.m. at St. Mary's Armenian Church, 200 W. Mount Pleasant Ave., Livingston, N.J.

There will be also a bone marrow donor screening on Sunday, May 30 at St. Thomas Armenian Church, 174 Essex Drive, Tenafly, N.J., and another on Sunday, June 6 at St. Leon Armenian Church, 12-61 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn, N.J. For further information about these and future drives, call The HLA Registry at 800-336-3363.

For many would-be donors, bone marrow transplants have had a long reputation of being painful and unpleasant procedures for both the donor and the recipient, but that is no longer the case. Thanks to huge strides in medical science, becoming a donor is now virtually as easy as getting a saliva test and giving blood.

On bone marrow transplants...

Today, there has never been a time of more hope for hundreds of thousands of children and adults suffering from many types of leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other blood-related cancers and other diseases each year around the world. Bone marrow transplants are now saving more and more lives through a relatively simple procedure that is only successful when using bone marrow tissue from a matching donor.

Unfortunately, for patients from minority backgrounds such as Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, and certain Eastern Europeans, Asians and other ethnic groups, finding a matching bone marrow donor can become extremely difficult, if not next to impossible. In fact each year, many patients die while waiting for a donor that is never found. The reason? Simply put, there is a shortage of bone marrow donors especially among ethnic minorities. This, combined with a lack of education within the general public, has created a real life-threatening situation for many.

To be successful, the level of match for bone marrow transplants must be closer than for heart, liver and other organ transplants. Since the unique characteristics of an individual's marrow are inherited, it would be assumed that someone from the immediate family would be an ideal donor. However, only 30 percent of patients have a family member, generally a sibling, who is suitably matched and qualified to donate marrow.

That's where organizations come in such as the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry (NBMDR) and many others. These organizations have made it their mission to educate as well as seek out persons of the same racial and ethnic background of the patient who will have a greater chance of exhibiting matching human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). HLAs are proteins found on the surface of white blood cells and other tissues that are used to match donor with patient.

For the past 10 years, one minority organization, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMD) along with its many tireless and dedicated volunteers and financial supporters, has been leading a global grass-roots effort to unite and educate Armenians in helping save many of their brethren's lives throughout the world. In just this year alone, ABMD has recruited nearly 2,000 donors throughout the world and continues to actively recruit more donors in unprecedented numbers. Nearly half of those donors came from the Country of Armenia and many others from North America, as well as Germany and Iran.

In addition, the American Armenian Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO), in cooperation with the Armenian Medical International Committee (AMIC) from Armenia, is sponsoring bone marrow drives at Armenian churches throughout the United States this year and every two years thereafter. These ground-breaking efforts along with dedicated health professionals and volunteers from around the world have a set a test model for other minorities to follow to help raise awareness of the unique health challenges their communities face.

But there is much more work to be done. Sadly, there are currently nine patients in the U.S. of Armenian heritage, including Charlotte Conybear, a four-year-old girl from Philadelphia, who is suffering from Aplastic Anemia. She is currently receiving transfusions and needs a bone marrow transplant to save her life, but there are no matches for her among her family or on any from the national or global bone marrow registries.

Organizations such as the AAHPO (www.AAHPO.org) support health professionals in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area with its mission of improving healthcare awareness and education. It only takes a moment to donate, but a lifetime to save.

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