Bone marrow search targets blacks City leukemia patient needs a donor

December 09, 1992|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Parents of a Baltimore leukemia patient have mobilized a star-studded campaign to dramatically increase the number of blacks locally who are registered as potential bone marrow donors.

Roland Campbell couldn't have been more blunt yesterday about the reason he has turned to black churches, public officials and celebrities like Charles Dutton, the Baltimore-born star of the television show, "Roc," to trumpet the need for donors.

His 21-year-old daughter, Demetria, needs a bone marrow transplant, and she needs one fast. Without one, she could die.

Many other black Americans need transplants, too, and their search for donors with compatible bone marrow has been handicapped by the small number of blacks registered as donors.

"African-Americans are dying, and they don't have to," Mr. Campbell told about 100 community and church leaders who gathered at the War Memorial yesterday to kick off the citywide campaign. "We want every African-American here in Baltimore to consider the prospect of giving the gift of life, to sign up to be a bone marrow donor."

The campaign is being coordinated by the American Red Cross, Clergy United for Renewal of East Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the National Marrow Donor Program, which keeps a list of Americans who have volunteered to donate marrow.

Donor drives are being scheduled for a host of churches and community centers, where volunteers will be asked to roll up their sleeves and give two vials of blood. The blood is then tested for the characteristics that are important in matching donors and patients.

The odds of any two people matching are so steep -- about 1 in 20,000 -- that most volunteers will never have the opportunity to donate marrow. When a match is made, the donor undergoes a surgical procedure in which a small quantity of marrow is extracted from the hip. The procedure is done under general anesthesia and involves an overnight hospital stay.

A bone marrow transplant does not offer a certain cure, but for many people, it is their best chance. In general, the cure rate is about 50 percent, although the odds vary greatly depending on the patient's condition and cancer.

The best place to look for a suitable donor is within the family. But to their disappointment, neither Mr. Campbell nor his wife, Deborrah Jones, had marrow that matched.

Their next recourse was the national registry, but no match was found.

So the Campbells figure their best chance rests within the black community, since the characteristics that allow a stranger's marrow to "take" inside someone else's body tend to run within ethnic groups.

But there, they encountered depressing odds of a different sort.

On a national registry of 750,000 potential donors, 31,000 are black. That's about 4 percent of the total registry, representing only one-third the proportion of blacks in the general population.

In Baltimore, a city with a majority black population, blacks comprise only 435, or 6 percent, of the 6,700 who have signed up as donors.

Now, the Campbells are hoping that a massive registration campaign in Baltimore will produce a match. Their daughter was first diagnosed with leukemia in August 1991 and has endured two courses of chemotherapy that have failed to send the disease into remission.

This year, she had hoped to put the finishing touches on a business degree at Hampton University in Virginia. But she couldn't even get started in September. She felt too weak and her joints ached too much.

Miss Campbell had planned to attend yesterday's gathering, but a sudden flare-up put her back in Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Ringing endorsements for the campaign came from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and state Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini. Oriole Mike Devereaux also sent his blessings, although he couldn't attend.

For charisma, they were no match for Charles Dutton, the TV star who said he "fought, kicked and screamed" to be there.

Mr. Dutton said he was combing through fan mail when he was moved by a pamphlet depicting the young woman's search. "I saw a picture of a beautiful and pretty young lady with a beautiful smile," he said.

He drew thunderous applause when he announced plans to weave the issue into future shows -- at least by wearing a T-shirt with a message about bone-marrow donations.

MARROW TEST SITES

* Dec. 21: Downtown Community Marrow Drive, War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay St.; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.* Dec. 22: Bon Secours Hospital Auditorium, 2000 West Baltimore St.; 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.* Dec. 29: Baltimore City Employees, War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay St.; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.* Dec. 30: Baltimore City Employees, War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay St.; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.* Jan. 10: Zion Baptist Church, 1700 N. Caroline St.; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.* Jan. 31: Friendship Baptist Church, 6000 Loch Raven Blvd.; 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.* Feb. 21: Huber Memorial United Church of Christ, The Alameda and 29th St.; 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.* Mar. 21: St. Ann's Church, 2215 Greenmount Ave.; 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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