Here’s a story about life that begins on the No. 2 toe — the one next to the big toe — on the right foot of Jasmina Anema. In early January, a red blip, the size of a bug bite, appeared. It got itchy, and she told her mom, Thea Anema.
“It looked like nothing,” the mother said. Then the foot started to swell. On the morning of Jan. 20, on their way to Jasmina’s kindergarten at Public School 141 in Greenwich Village, they stopped at the pediatrician’s office.
Her abdomen was swollen; a test found her white blood cells in the organized riot of leukemia.
“He said go to N.Y.U. Medical Center,” Ms. Anema said on Friday. “We hopped in a cab, and basically have been here since then.”
Jasmina, who turned 6 on March 4, must start over with entirely new blood. First the cancer must be driven back with chemotherapy. Then her own bone marrow, where stem cells are the factory for both healthy and cancerous blood cells, will be destroyed. Then she will need a transplant of new stem cells from the marrow of a healthy person with matching tissue. Unlike most tissue transplants, those cells come from living people, who begin the compatibility tests by rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of their cheeks.
To find a possible donor for Jasmina, and the thousands of others with cancers like leukemia and lymphoma needing transplants, an organization called D.K.M.S. Americas is holding a drive on Saturday at the McBurney Y.M.C.A., 125 West 14th Street, from noon to 4 p.m., and on Sunday at the Harlem Children’s Zone, 35 East 125th Street, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. People can also register online through the D.K.M.S. Web site (www.dkmsamericas.org), and they will be sent a kit. Those who are eligible will be added to a national registry of possible donors. D.K.M.S. does not charge for the screening.
Nearly every weekend, drives just like this are going on across the country for people who need stem cell donors. Jasmina is an especially winning personality: Check out the Web site built for her, www.oneforjasmina.com.
Stem cell transplants are often the best hope for people with blood cancer, but the hunt for good genetic matches faces maddening obstacles. The kindness of strangers is often squandered.
Blood is, by far, the human tissue that is most often donated — but the collection and typing process almost never includes tests to see if the donors might also match someone who needs stem cells. Every drop of donated blood has a commercial medical value in one form or another, and is routinely used in treatments. Stem cells, which are not used nearly as often, can’t be derived from ordinary blood donations. But information about possible matches could be. The needed tests are usually not performed. “The question is who is going to pay for that when it’s done,” said Jennifer Garfinkel of A.A.B.B., formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks.
In 2007, 9.5 million people donated blood, according to the most recent federal statistics. Many of them would have been eligible to be included in the registry maintained by the National Marrow Donor Program, but in 2008, only 440,000 people were added to it because most blood drives simply don’t include screening for possible stem cell matches.
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