Hundreds Respond to Plea for Bone Marrow Donors

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The line of prospective bone marrow donors whose hearts were touched by the life-threatening struggle facing two young Ventura County boys wrapped alongside the State Office Building on Wednesday.

There were police officers and sheriff's deputies in uniform. Civilians in business suits waited patiently. Others, many of them on a day off from work, stood comfortably in T-shirts or sweatshirts and casual pants.

In one way or another, hundreds of people were eager to try to help the LaRue family find a bone marrow match for 3-year-old Garrett and 6-month-old Blayke. The boys suffer from a rare immune system disorder.

"If you can save someone it's worth it," said Ariadna Renteria, 21, of Van Nuys, as she filled out a registration form. "I just heard they needed people, so I'm here."

The drive Wednesday was the first of four scheduled throughout the city this month after Los Angeles Police Lt. Ron LaRue sought help for his grandsons.

LaRue's son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Theresa, who was helping register donors Wednesday, last summer lost their 1-year-old son, Layne, to the disorder, which is known as X-linked lymphoproliferative disease.

Organizers said the drives will also be used to search for a marrow donor for Michelle Carew, the 18-year-old daughter of former baseball star and current California Angels coach Rod Carew. Michelle Carew, who has leukemia, has been hospitalized since mid-September.

Ron LaRue, the commanding officer at the LAPD's North Hollywood division, beamed at the turnout.

"It's overwhelming to me," he said.

Officer Vic Masi of the LAPD's Valley traffic division saw LaRue and greeted him by his nickname, Lash. The two officers have known each other at least 25 years, Masi said.

"As soon as I heard, I wanted to come and see what I could do," Masi said. "You can at least give it a shot. You don't know unless you get tested whether you're the person who can help."

Those who participated gave blood samples, which will be screened for a possible match with the LaRues and Carew. For each volunteer the process took 10 to 20 minutes, once they made it to the registration desk. Many also donated blood.

The odds that a given person's marrow will match that of the recipient are about 1 in 20,000.

Ronald Jackson of Winnetka said he was drawn by a desire to help both the LaRue and Carew families.

"I just believe in giving whenever possible," said Jackson, 48. "Also, I heard about Rod Carew's daughter and that they had very few black people in the [marrow donor] bank. It's community service."

Organizers had hoped that the drive, which began at 7:30 a.m., would attract 500 prospective donors by 6 p.m., but that goal was reached easily by early afternoon, said Sharon Stahly, a recruitment specialist for the American Red Cross of Southern California.

"It seems that people are responding overwhelmingly, which is terrific," Stahly said. "We need it."

She said that if a marrow donor match is found, the prospective donor will be called back for an extensive physical. A transplant may occur within about two weeks to a month from the time a match is found, she said.

Theresa LaRue, 29, of Oxnard, said she was grateful to everyone who was trying to help and was hopeful that something good would happen soon.

"It's a roller coaster ride," she said. "The boys are healthy right now, so that's keeping us going."

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