Students' marrow donor bill is shelved

Oakland Mills teens asked lower age requirement

they're urged to try again


General Assembly

April 01, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A few Columbia high school students learned a tough lesson about politics this week when their General Assembly bill to lower the age requirement for bone marrow donors was shelved for this session.

The measure, which would lower the minimum age for donors from 18 to 16 with parental consent, was referred for summer study because of "technical problems" in it, said Del. John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee. He refused to be more specific. Jade Vaughn, Monica Holloway, Cherise Carpenter and Kimberly Sealey -- students at Oakland Mills High School and members of the Sister to Sister Club -- went to Annapolis on March 10 with Joslyn Wolfe, their faculty adviser, to testify for the bill they conceived and worked on for two years.

Increasing the donor pool is particularly important for minority patients, they learned during their research, because there are few minority donors.

Also this week, the girls learned about a 16-year-old Glenelg High student who needs a marrow transplant but cannot find a donor.

After school yesterday, Vaughn and Holloway sat on the floor in Wolfe's classroom, painting signs for a club activity -- a march promoting community peace -- and discussed how things turned out.

Neither seemed discouraged.

"I don't feel bad about it," Vaughn said, adding that they knew the bill might not pass. Holloway agreed.

"We did make it that far to testify before the committee. Now the issue has been brought before the public," she said.

Wolfe is working to reverse opposition from the National Marrow Donor Program and said the students, all juniors, would be ready next year.

"I'm encouraging them to persevere and continue on with the project," Wolfe said.

The delay comes as Justine Mantua, a junior at Glenelg High in western Howard, is searching for a marrow donor to help with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a rare blood disease that often leaves her exhausted, aching and sometimes unable to attend school.

"Justine's disease can be life-threatening, but not always," said her mother, Jackie Mantua. "A lot of people tell me their children want to be tested" to see if they would be suitable donors for her.

Mantua, a mother of three teen-agers, said, "in my opinion, my kids at 16 were all perfectly able to make that decision."

Family and friends of Justine Mantua are planning a donor drive from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 24 at the Clarksville Fire Hall to test possible donors.

The bill's principal sponsor, Columbia Democrat Del. Elizabeth Bobo, said her main concern is the students' morale.

"I would rather it had passed. It looked to me that this one was ready, but the most important thing is that these young women not be discouraged," she said. "I intend to put the bill back in next year."

Objections raised by the National Marrow Donor Program also played a role, according to Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a physician and Baltimore County Democrat who is a health committee member.

"It's a very good idea, but not an urgent crisis," Morhaim said, pointing out that donating bone marrow requires general anesthesia. "I want to make sure everything is understood thoroughly."

Isaac Fordjour, the donor program's lobbyist, argued in written testimony that his group feels that those younger than age 18 are unable to give informed consent because they are immature and could change their minds at the last minute, making a difficult situation worse.

But the Maryland/District of Columbia Society of Clinical Oncology, made up of 75 cancer specialists, supported the proposed change, which has occurred in two states, Washington and Missouri.

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