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Livingston First Grader with Rare Blood Disease Seeking Bone Marrow Transplant

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John Faro Vitale Bone Marrow Drive Credits: Helen Flores
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LIVINGSTON, NJ — The West Essex YMCA, a community-service organization committed to healthy living throughout Livingston and surrounding communities, is asking for the community’s help in locating a bone marrow match for six-year-old John Faro Vitale, the grandson of YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores. A Bone Marrow Drive is being held in his honor at the Y on Feb. 18 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. in an attempt to find a match.

John Faro, a first grader who loves to play soccer and watch football, was recently diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare blood disease that only effects 700-800 people in the United States and requires a bone marrow transplant. According to Flores, when John Faro was diagnosed, it was also determined that John Faro’s bone marrow type is equally as rare and the family has yet to find a match.

Flores and the other Executive Directors at the Metro YMCA of the Oranges, including the YMCAs of Sussex, Wayne and South Mountain, as well as the Madison and Staten Island YMCAs, are teaming up to save the lives of kids like John Faro and other kids suffering from similar disease. If not John Faro’s, Flores said there are other lives that need saving and kids all over the country that could benefit from the community’s contributions.

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“I need to get people here to get swabbed so maybe we can find a match,” said Flores, who has been supported by the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE), the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC), Health Community Healthy Youth (HCHY), and other local organizations throughout the process. “I’m overwhelmed. Everyone has been so helpful to me to get the word out and I’m so grateful—there’s no other place like Livingston.”

Visiting her grandson at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and hearing the heartbreaking stories of other innocent kids with blood diseases, leukemia and other illnesses has Flores more determined than ever to spread the word about “Be the Match,” a national marrow donor program. According to Flores, every $100 raised helps add another member to the registry and every marrow donation is an opportunity to find a match.

John Faro is already in the registry, with more than 12-million donors, but the more people that donate, the more likely the Vitale family is to find a match. All it takes is a quick swab of the inside of a cheek and it could mean the difference between life and death for John Faro or another kid like him.

According to Flores, the Be the Match Registry has the best success with donors between 18 and 44 years old. Patients with diseases like leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell anemia are also more likely to match someone who shares their ethnic background. 

Since the West Essex Y is known in Livingston for its community service projects, local organizations are teaming up to help Flores, a close friend of the community's, in her family's time of need. 

“Of course we are all devastated by the news but [John Faro] has been stable for the last three weeks so that gives us hope and buys us time until they can determine the best course of action for him,” said HCHY President Alan Karpas. “Please help us support Helen by spreading the word and attending the Bone Marrow Drive.”

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