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Bone Marrow Drive to Be Held for Young Child with Leukemia

By Andy Stark
Staff Reporter

There will be a bone marrow drive at MIT on Mar. 4 to try to find a match for two-year-old Patrick McDonough, a leukemia patient who needs a transplant. The drive, which will be in La Sala de Puerto Rico in the Student Center, falls during National Bone Marrow Drive Week.

Craig Venezia, assistant communications console operator of Physical Plant, is helping to organize the drive, beginning with a meeting today in Room 66-148 at 4:30 p.m. Volunteers are needed to "try to get a small campaign together," to promote the drive and prepare for it, Venezia said.

Venezia does not know McDonough, but he decided to plan the upcoming drive after running a similar one for his nephew last month.

The initial step in trying to find a match for McDonough is to take two tablespoons of blood from potential donors. The blood is tested for a match of four out of the six antigens, specific genetic markers which are unique to each person. Donors with successful matches are called back for further testing. The overall chance of finding someone whose marrow Patrick can use is less than one in 20,000, Venezia said.

In addition, records of all donors' antigens will be entered into a national registry's data banks, where they may match someone in need of a bone marrow transplant in the future. However, some doctors believe that a perfect match is not even possible.

If a close match is found after the second test, doctors would then extract bone marrow from the hip of the donor to inject into the patient.

McDonough would have all of his own cancerous marrow drained. With no bone marrow, McDonough would have to stay in a Clean Room -- a carefully ventilated and protected room -- to assure that he does not get infected with even the slightest illness.

The donor would only spend about one day in the hospital. "It's no big deal" for the donor, Venezia said. "If you see what those kids go through you'd do anything for them."

The transplant has the greatest chance of success when the patient is in remission, meaning that the cancer is not active. This is when the chemotherapy is most likely to kill all the cancer.

McDonough is currently in his first remission, but doctors do not know exactly how long he will remain in this condition. Testing for the four-antigen match takes three weeks, and testing for a full match takes up to another month. Thus, it is essential to hold the marrow drive soon, Venezia said.