Tania Laguerre, a 34-year-old supervisor at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, heard from her boss about a campaign to get more minorities to volunteer as potential bone marrow donors.
So Laguerre, an African-American, used her holiday yesterday to drive to the Park School in Pikesville, where she signed up at an outreach event designed to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"There are a lot of areas where minorities are shortchanged, and if there are any areas where I can help out, that's my goal," said Laguerre as she filled out an application.
Unlike blood donors, whose race doesn't matter, the ethnicity of bone marrow donors makes a difference in finding cells that the immune systems of transplant recipients won't reject, according to Susan Crabbin, donor center coordinator at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who helped out during yesterday's drive.
Only 8 percent of the 6 million people who have volunteered nationally to be part of a national bone marrow donor program are African-American; 7 percent are Hispanic, and 52 percent are white, Crabbin said.
Having a close genetic match is important for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases who need an infusion of bone marrow cells after chemotherapy. "It increases every patient's chance of finding a match if there are more people in the registry," Crabbin said.
Seventeen donors showed up yesterday at the "People of Color Bone Marrow Donor Registration Drive." They agreed to have their mouths swabbed for cells, which will be analyzed for tissue type. If the tissue of a patient who needs a bone marrow transplant matches their type, doctors will contact them about volunteering for an outpatient medical procedure that removes bone marrow from the hip.
"Martin Luther King Day is a day of service to the community, so we thought this would be a good day to bring people in for this worthy cause," said Valerie Brice, an administrative assistant at the Park School.
Next to the bone marrow drive booth in the Park School athletic center yesterday, more than a dozen parent and student volunteers held a bake sale to raise money for the family of sixth-grade Park School student Akira Townes, 11, whose 18-year-old sister, Artesh Townes, has leukemia.
Artesh Townes, who is African-American, is at Johns Hopkins Hospital, fighting pneumonia, and might need a bone marrow transplant after she completes chemotherapy.
"The Townes family was new to Park School this year, and when we heard they were going through this, we decided we had to reach out," said Carbery Morrow, parent of another Park School sixth-grader.