Teens' bone marrow bill receives a second chance


A year older and now wiser about the workings of the Maryland General Assembly, a group of Oakland Mills High School students will testify today in Annapolis for a bill they unsuccessfully fought for last year to lower the age requirement for bone marrow donors.

Now 17-year-old seniors, Jade Vaughan, Kimberly Sealey, Monica Holloway and Kenyetta Alston are hoping their second attempt to persuade legislators will be the charm.

"We know the process," said Vaughan.

"I'm more nervous, because it's our last chance," said Holloway.

But even if the bill doesn't survive, Joslyn Wolfe, their faculty adviser for Oakland Mills' Sister to Sister Club, said the club will continue to pursue the goal, though with a new group of students.

"We're cautiously optimistic," she said last week as she worked with Vaughan, Sealey and Holloway to prepare for the girls' testimony on House Bill 565 before the committee.

Last year, their bill was killed by the House Health and Government Operations Committee without a vote because of concerns that teens might be idealistic but too immature to commit themselves to a long-term donor program.

But this year, chief sponsor Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, said she changed the bill at the suggestion of the committee chairman, Del. John Adams Hurson, to require a physician to decide if a marrow donation from any person "is in the best interests of the donor and the donee."

By approaching it from a health perspective, Bobo said, a doctor can decide if a potential donor is "healthy, strong and mature enough" to donate, which could ease fears about including people younger than 18.

Bobo said she now feels the bill "has a very good chance" of passage. Five other delegates are co-sponsors, including all three members from District 13, which includes Oakland Mills, and Vaughn's father, Del. Michael L. Vaughn of Prince George's County.

The Washington-based National Marrow Donor Program, which last year opposed the girls' bill, hasn't taken a position on the new version, according to its lobbyist, Isaac Fordjour.

The girls began their project three years ago, when Wolfe showed them a Reader's Digest article about a teen in Washington state who, after the death of a friend, proposed a change in the law to allow bone marrow donors to be as young as 16 instead of 18. The change was approved, and Missouri has since followed Washington state's lead.

Bobo agreed to sponsor a bill last year based on the girls' research. They argued that changing the law would increase the pool of potential donors, especially for minorities, because the national donor list is only 8 percent African-American and Hispanic and 6 percent Asian.

It could also help diminish the dispute over stem cells because the cells can be extracted from bone marrow instead of fetuses.

Local support also comes from western Howard County resident Jackie Mantua and her daughter Justine, a senior at Glenelg High who is searching for a marrow donor to help treat a rare blood disease.

"She's [Justine] in the registry. Her profile goes through once a month," seeking a match, Jackie Mantua said. Justine has missed nearly 30 days of school this year, her mother said.

The girls remember the huge crowd of people that filled the large Annapolis hearing room last year, and they're nervous. But they're also determined.

"They know we're persistent and that we still care," Sealey said about the legislators they will face.

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