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Bone-marrow-registry drive is tribute to leukemia victim

In life, Terrell Wilson brought much love and laughter to family and friends.

"He was very outgoing. He was the comedian of the family," said his mother, Mariesa Wilson.

Terrell Wilson, who had leukemia, was never able to find a bone marrow match and lost his battle with the disease on Christmas Day at the age of 21.

Now, in his memory, Terrell Wilson's family is working to raise awareness about becoming a bone marrow donor or donating blood to save the lives of others — especially among African Americans, who are the least likely minority group to find a donor.

Today, Florida Hospital will have the first Terrell Wilson Celebrity Drive, a bone marrow registration and blood drive that will feature appearances by Orlando Magic Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw, the Orlando Magic Dancers and other local celebrities. A simple cheek swab is all that is required to be added to the registry.

"Terrell would be so excited about this event," said his mother. "He knew something good would happen from his experience not finding a donor. This is what he would have wanted to happen. He didn't die in vain. Other people knowing his story and becoming aware about the importance of bone marrow registration has given his life meaning and a purpose."

According to the National Bone Marrow Donor Program, about 8 million people are on the national bone marrow registry but only 7 percent are black and 10 percent are Hispanic.

Minorities are underrepresented on the registry primarily because of a lack of awareness and misperceptions about bone marrow donation, said Dr. Vijay Reddy, director of Florida Hospital's bone marrow transplant program.

"It's not drilling holes into the bone," said Reddy. "It's a safe, simple procedure. Most of the time, it's as simple as a blood donation."

When a donors are placed on the registry after submitting to a cheek swab, which tests for DNA and stem cell type, they are called in if there is a match with a patient. The donor is given injections to stimulate stem cell growth over a period of four days, and then his or her blood is taken while the donor sits in a chair.

A donor may also give bone marrow, which is taken by needle from the hipbone while the donor is under general anesthesia.

"It is considered minor surgery," said Reddy. "There are no scars or sutures. The donor essentially comes in the morning and goes home in the afternoon."

At today's bone marrow registration and blood drive at Florida Hospital, each participant will get a free parking pass and a T-shirt as well as the opportunity to meet Outlaw and the Magic Dancers.

Outlaw and the team's dancers were present for Terrell Wilson's 21st birthday, and they remained friends until his death.

Terrell Wilson's mother thinks more people would sign up to become a member of the bone marrow transplant registry if they knew how safe and simple it is to be a donor —and if they knew about stories like her son's.

"I knew nothing about bone marrow transplants. I wouldn't have known anything about it if it hadn't affected my family," said Mariesa Wilson, an officer with the Orange County Corrections Department. "That's the message I want to get out. Don't wait until it hits so close to home. You may end up waiting for a call that never comes. That is the most heart-wrenching."

Register today

The Terrell Wilson Celebrity bone marrow registration and blood drive will be from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Florida Hospital Ginsburg Tower Creation Conference Center, 601 E. Rollins St. in Orlando. For more information on the national bone marrow donor program, go to marrow.org.

Fernando Quintero can be reached at fquintero@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6333.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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