‘Be a Hero’ Screening Raises Awareness of Need for Stem Cell Donors

More Armenians now are aware of the need for stem cell donors, thanks to a successful screening event held in Newton, Mass. on Sept. 2 during the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Olympics. About two dozen individuals of Armenian descent were screened and had their data registered in response.

Armenians are most likely to find a match with another Armenian. That’s why it’s important for all Armenians who fit the donor profile to be screened and to register their data.

The event focused on Debbi Margosian Chapman, who is battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and is in desperate need of a donor for a stem cell transplant to restore her bone marrow. However, she is not the only Armenian in need.

“More than 200 Armenians are in need of a donor, and any one of the persons screened could be a life-saving match,” said Lawrence V. Najarian, MD, the president of AAHPO (www.aahpo.org), a New York area Armenian group that supported the event.

Haig Hrakelian, who was screened at the Sept. 2 event, said he was proud to undergo the simple cheek-swab test: “It’s important for Armenians to help each other.”

“I’m delighted so many Armenians took the time to come over to our table and get their names in the registry database. There’s a lot of anxiety about what being a donor entails. We are always happy to educate people so they can see how easy it is to join and if someone is lucky enough to match, how easy and painless it is to be a donor,” said event organizer Linda Levin-Scherz.

Dr. Armen H. Arslanian, the president of AAMA, an Armenian group based in Boston, shared a personal story: “My cousin recovered from Acute Myelogenous Leukemia at Tufts only after he received bone marrow, and everyone deserves a chance like that! Imagine the extreme joy of life again.”

Potential donors should be in good health and between ages 18 and 50. Donating stem cells is similar to giving blood; a donor’s stem cells are removed and the blood is returned to the donor. Within a couple of weeks, donor stem cells are replenished. There is no surgery, no anesthesia, and no cost to the donor. To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/PqTPQG.

Many in need cannot find a match from direct relatives. According to the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (visitwww.abmdr.ma), only 25 percent of patients afflicted with leukemia or other life-threatening blood disorders find donors within their families. The other 75 percent depend on finding a perfectly matched unrelated donor, usually from their own ethnic community.

In other words, Armenians are most likely to find a match with another Armenian. That’s why it’s important for all Armenians who fit the donor profile to be screened and to register their data.

“AAHPO is very excited to have collaborated with AAMA to raise regional awareness. Now we need to educate Armenians throughout the U.S. and abroad of this pressing medical need,” noted Najarian.

AAHPO has recently publicized two other cases, those of Irene Katrandjian and young Charlotte Conybear of Philadelphia, who also desperately need to find a match.

To learn more, view a TV program from AAHPO in which hematologist-oncologist Dr. Terenig Terjanian is interviewed about Bone Marrow Transplants, by visiting http://bit.ly/QxNcN1.

Those with questions are invited to call the AAHPO hotline at (201) 546-6166. You can obtain a free cheek swab kit by e-mailing llevinscherz@gmail.com or request a free kit from the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry by visiting www.marrow.org/Join.

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