LOS ANGELES–On Palm Sunday a major drive to recruit bone marrow donors and raise public awareness of the life-saving benefits of donorship was held by the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) in California and Massachusetts.
The recruitments, which took place on April 5 in Glendale, San Francisco, and two venues in Boston, were initiated by the family of Aram, a 24-year-old Detroit resident who suffers from acute leukemia and is in urgent need of a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
In the weeks leading up to the recruitment drive, Aram’s family and friends made appeals to the public and launched a fundraising effort to help offset the cost of donor screenings during the recruitments. Over 40 volunteer recruiters from the ABMDR, community organizations, and churches, including medical professionals, participated in the events. They helped educate attendees about the benefits of donorship, conducted screenings, and registered potential donors.
“We’re all so very moved by Aram’s story,” said Dr. Frieda Jordan, president of the ABMDR Board of Directors. “Here’s a vibrant young man, someone who should be looking forward to a wonderful future. Yet his life-threatening illness means that he will possibly not have a chance to survive unless he receives a timely transplant from a compatible bone marrow stem cell donor.” Dr. Jordan added that currently doctors are trying to induce Aram’s leukemia into remission and stabilize his condition, to be able to perform a transplant once a compatible stem cell donor is identified.
The ABMDR’s donor recruitments, which are held throughout the U.S. and Armenia, are an ongoing effort to expand a worldwide and predominantly Armenian registry of bone marrow stem cell donors. Dr. Vergine Madenlian, the ABMDR’s outreach and development officer, said that since ethnic Armenians have a unique genetic makeup, often their only chance of surviving a life-threatening blood-related illness is to receive a bone marrow transplant from an Armenian donor.
During recruitments, ABMDR volunteers register potential donors after conducting a quick and simple screening, which involves taking a saliva sample with a swab. Registered donors commit to donating their bone marrow stem cell if their HLA tissue type matches that of an Armenian or non-Armenian patient suffering from a blood-related illness and requiring a transplant. Whenever the ABMDR receives a request from a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant, it finds matches in its own or other registries worldwide, and subsequently facilitates the transplantation process.
During the April 5 recruitments, more than 300 donors were registered. Although the recruitments were initiated specifically in response to Aram’s critical need of a transplant, any number of the 1,276 patients currently awaiting a match through the ABMDR can potentially benefit from the expanded pool of donors.
The registry’s Marilyn Bazarian, who pioneered recruitments in Massachusetts beginning in 2004, spoke of her early days as a volunteer and the joys of supporting the registry. “I first became involved in the ABMDR after seeing a newspaper report,” she said. “I did not fit the criteria [for becoming a donor] ‘s I was beyond the desired age range and had a medical history. What to do?” Bazarian, who is an Irish-American, continued: “My husband is Armenian, my children are half Armenian, and you never know when tragedy will strike you, your family, or friends, necessitating a bone marrow transplant. I felt volunteering for the ABMDR was absolutely the right thing to do. So I started organizing recruitments in Massachusetts.”
“To see the eagerness and concern on the faces of those so willing to help people they don’t even know is truly rewarding. Here they are lined up to help, with no concern for themselves,” she added. “All you had to say was that an Armenian ‘s it didn’t matter where ‘s needed help. No matter who I contacted regarding recruitments or informational sessions, the answer was always yes. Newspapers, radio broadcasters, civic groups, clergy; they were all willing to help a fellow Armenian, however they could.”
Bazarian’s sentiments were echoed by Narreh Ghazarians, an ABMDR recruiter who volunteered at one of the Boston-area events on April 5. “It was truly touching to see so many young men and women, friends and total strangers who had heard about Aram’s illness, take the time to come and get screened,” she said. “Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting Aram, the overwhelming response of people from every corner of this country shows what an amazing person he truly is. Recruitment drives have been scheduled in several states over the next few weeks and we hope that we will find a match for Aram soon.” Ghazarians added that the assistance of Aram’s girlfriend, her family, and friends had an instrumental role in the success of the Massachusetts recruitments, which resulted in about 130 new potential donors.
Upcoming recruitment drives include events in Arizona (April 19, Armenian Apostolic Church of Arizona in Scottsdale), California (April 24, during the Genocide-commemoration event at Montebello’s Armenian Genocide Memorial), New Jersey (April 24, venue to be announced), New York (April 26, St. Vartan Cathedral), and Florida (May 8, venue to be announced). Recruitments are also planned to take place in Yerevan throughout April.
Recently the ABMDR reached a much-anticipated milestone as it launched its Stem Cell Harvesting Center in Yerevan. The project was made possible by a number of major corporate and individual donations, as well as grassroots support through the registry’s first-ever telethon, held on April 13 last year. With a total of $850,000 raised, the ABMDR was able to renovate the Stem Cell Harvesting Center site, equip it with state-of-the-art medical machinery, and train personnel. Slated to open on April 28, the center is expected to receive full accreditation by the European Federation of Immunogenetics.
Commenting on the public’s support of the ABMDR’s recruitments, Dr. Jordan said, “while the response is great, it’s also true that recruitments get maximum attention only when they’re focused on a specific patient ‘s that is to say, when a life-threatening illness %u218hits home.’ We appeal to our communities throughout the year, urging people to get registered, but many ignore our pleas, perhaps believing that catastrophic illnesses happen to others, not them. We try to get the message across that becoming a registered donor amounts to investing in a free health-insurance plan for individuals and families alike, especially if they’re young.”
Established in 1999, the ABMDR, a nonprofit organization, helps Armenians worldwide survive life-threatening blood-related illnesses by recruiting and matching donors to those requiring bone marrow stem cell transplants. To date, the registry has recruited over 14,000 donors across three continents, identified 1,276 patients, found 821 potential matches, and facilitated nine bone marrow transplants.
For more information, call (323) 663-3609 or visit abmdr.am.