Hundreds of volunteers Saturday crowded the sidewalks in Glendale, snaking from Glendale Memorial Hospital to Verdugo Park as part of the fifth annual Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry Walk of Life.
The walk is meant to drive awareness about bone marrow diseases, and to register potential bone marrow donors who could be matches for Armenian patients, said Frieda Jordan, a biochemist and president of the registry. Finding bone marrow matches is very complex, Jordan said, and even more so for ethnic subgroups.
"Leukemia is a killer; anybody who contracts that sort of cancer needs to have a match donor for their transplant," Jordan said. "It is very difficult for Armenians to find a match because genetically they are very unique."
Founded in 1999, the group has built its international registry to about 20,000 donors, said Dr. Evelyn Baghdasraian, a Glendale-based pediatrician. But donors' viability can expire with age (at 50 or 60, depending on the registry and procedure), meaning the organization has to continually recruit.
Advances in technology, however, have revolutionized the bone marrow harvesting process, Baghdasraian said. Previously, donors were put through a painful procedure wherein marrow was drawn directly from their hip bone. Now, doctors draw blood, isolate the cells they need, and return the remaining blood to the donor. The procedure takes about four hours.
"Things have changed a lot in 10 years," Baghdasraian said.
There were plenty of personal stories being shared during the event Saturday. George Titizian walked alongside his daughter, Sonja Mikaelian, and son, Armen Titizian, in memory of their wife and mother who died three years ago from a rare bone marrow disease.
"It is a walk for life; that says it all," Titizian said. "Even if you help one person, it's worth it. And they are helping many, many."
Her mother's death, at the age of 59, was a tragedy, Mikaelian said.
"There was no match ever found for her," Mikaelian said. "We are here to hopefully save someone else's life."
Sisters Alik Anserian, 24, and Patil Derhovagimian, 29, were inspired to participate by their cousin, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The cousin, now 3, underwent a successful bone marrow transplant and is now doing well, they said.
"They weren't giving her a great prognosis, but she kept a positive attitude through the whole thing and she beat it," Anserian said.
The event Saturday drew prominent members of the local community, including religious leaders, Armenian pop star Karem Boksian and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).
Schiff, who has participated in the walk several times, said the registry's work can make the difference between life and death.
"This is one of those organizations that does what so many others purport to do — save lives," Schiff said.