Sharing the gift of life

December 14, 1992

History provides many examples of ordinary people rising to meet extraordinary circumstances. So it is with the parents of 21-year-old Demetria Campbell, diagnosed with leukemia last year.

Ms. Campbell's best hope lies in a bone marrow transplant. But her parents, Roland Campbell and Deborrah Jones, couldn't find a suitable donor in the family or among those listed in a national registry of donors. Since the characteristics that allow a donor's marrow to "take" inside someone else's body tend to run within ethnic groups, Ms. Campbell's parents decided to launch their own grass-roots campaign aimed at dramatically increasing the number of black donors.

In the last few months, pamphlets describing the plight of their daughter have turned up in churches, stores, nightclubs -- anywhere people gather. They describe in simple yet compelling terms Demetria's plight and that of thousands of other African Americans who need similar transplants but can't obtain them because of the relatively small number of black donors. One of the pamphlets was sent to Charles Dutton, the Baltimore-born star of the TV drama "Roc," who has agreed to help publicize their appeal on his show.

The campaign has also been endorsed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and state Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini, as well as Oriole center-fielder Mike Devereaux. All have lent their support for a massive registration campaign in Baltimore that they hope will produce a match.

Nationally, only about 4 percent of the 750,000 registered potential donors are black. In Baltimore, a city with a majority black population, blacks comprise only 435, or 6 percent, of the 6,700 registered donors. The registration drive 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 the registry of Americans who have volunteered to donate marrow.

Ms. Campbell's parents, who gave her life, are now trying desperately to save their daughter through this extraordinary effort. We join in their call for potential donors to sign up; for Demetria and thousands of others like her, there can be no gift more precious than the shared gift of life.

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