Monday, April 14, 2008

RE: Heal Helen - the DRIVE TO FIND A DONOR

Below is a message from a good friend of miine. Please circulate among the North American Caribbean community.


Dear Friends,

On Tuesday October 30th one of my closest friends, Helen Ross, was diagnosed as having acute lymphocytic leukemia, otherwise called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Helen is 41 years old and a mother of three, a true Trini and an exceptional human being.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that the body uses to fight infections. In ALL, the bone marrow makes lots of unformed cells called blasts that normally would develop into lymphocytes. However, the blasts are abnormal. They do not develop and cannot fight infections. The number of abnormal cells (or leukemia cells) grows quickly. They crowd out the normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets the body needs.

Treatment generally entails 8 courses of chemo over a 6 month period followed by maintenance treatment over the course of 2 years (tablets, spinal taps etc.) Helen has had about five treatments already, with encouraging results. However, she recently found out that she has an abnormal chromosome called the Philadelphia chromosome which prevents complete recovery through chemo and means that her only real chance for a full remission is a bone marrow transplant.

Unfortunately her brother and sister, her best hopes for a match, turned out to be incompatible, although they have been found to match each other perfectly!

Since then a search was made at the US Bone Marrow Registry. However, an ideal match has not yet been found. In order to find out if your bone marrow matches someone else's, your blood has to be HLA typed. It is a very specific test that looks for up to 10 different markers in your blood.

There is no registry of such blood types in Trinidad (nor indeed in the Caribbean) and therefore we cannot carry out such testing here. This creates a real problem for Caribbean people, because ethnicity plays a large part in determining whether there is a match or not, since half the markers in your marrow come from your mother and the other half from your father. It makes it more difficult for a person from the Caribbean to get a match, especially someone who is of mixed blood.

In the meantime, Helen found out about a Trini/Jamaican man living in Montreal by the name of Emru Townsend who also has leukemia and is having difficulty finding a match. His friends and family have started a drive to recruit donors through a website:; and on Facebook.

On behalf of Helen, Emru and all Caribbean people in need of bone-marrow donors in North America, I am hoping that you will join the cause and encourage your Caribbean friends living abroad to become donors. Put up flyers in your local supermarkets and churches. Emru’s website has printable flyers with all of the necessary information. Time is short and ACTION IS NEEDED NOW.

Elena Araujo


In South East Asia, a young woman by the name of Pia needed a match desperately

but there were practically no South East Asian donors. Her friends set up a website called MatchPia.

Through their drives and efforts, 33,000 South East Asians became donors and she got her match.

Imagine that - 33,000! Because South East Asia has nothing by way of a registry,

has become the officially recognised recruitment website for South East Asians

wishing to join the US Bone Marrow Programme.

Visit the website if you can - it's a great story.

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