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SANTA ANA : Latinos Are Targeted in Donor Hunt

“Ayuden a Armando.”

Not far from the hand-lettered sign asking for help, a thin boy watched solemnly as workers from the Life-Savers Foundation of America recruited potential bone marrow donors who might save his life.

“I am grateful to the people for coming,” 12-year-old Armando Garcia said quietly as shoppers from the busy VivaMart store put down their groceries a moment to sit at folding tables, bare their arms and contribute a small vial of blood for testing.

“If this can help him,” said Jose Garcia, Armando’s father, “it is something really big. It means a lot.”

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Armando, a pale youth whose deep, dark bangs frame wide, brown eyes, has been ill for more than a year with mylodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. Without a bone marrow transplant, he is not expected to live more than six months, foundation officials said.

But hoping to help him survive, the Covina-based nonprofit foundation was launching its first campaign targeting the Latino community.

Explained foundation spokeswoman Susan Rafkin: “The chances that two unrelated people will match are one in 20,000. . . . But we’re hoping it might be easier to find a match for Armando among Hispanic people.”

The 2-year-old organization runs a national registry of 100,000 potential donors, but Latinos are seriously under-represented, Rafkin said. Other foundation workers said they do not believe that the Latino community understands the grave need for bone marrow donors.

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In their effort to find a match for Armando, foundation officials placed ads and news stories about the boy’s plight in Latino newspapers and on Latino-radio stations, Rafkin said. They printed new leaflets in Spanish explaining Life-Savers and the need for a bone marrow transplant (“ un transplante de medula osea ") .

They set up a toll-free “Armando hot line” (1 (800) 950-1050) to handle contributions for testing potential donors.

And they persuaded the Santa Ana Business Bureau to donate $2,000 to the Life-Savers for the Armando campaign. The money would pay for blood tests of potential donors, said Rafkin, who noted that analysis of each tablespoon-size sample typically costs $75.

VivaMart also contributed $5,000 toward the blood tests and encouraged its employees to assist at Life-Savers’ tables Sunday.

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Late Sunday, the work had paid off, Rifkin said, noting that 72 people were tested. But she added that the Santa Ana campaign would continue this month--with new test sites at community centers and churches.


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