Donating marrow with ease

GLENDALE — Four swabs of the inside of Public Works employee Kim Withers' mouth made her a possible bone marrow donor Wednesday — at least until the age of 61.

Withers, a custodial services manager, has donated blood for several years, but had never signed up to be a bone marrow donor. She only had to go to the City Hall employee training room, fill out a form to become a donor, swipe four cotton swabs inside her mouth to collect cells and put the samples in an envelope, which will be sent to a laboratory.

“It was simple and easy,” Withers said.

It was a role she grew more into upon learning that the donor drive was being held for 14-month-old Allison Zicree, who has a rare form of leukemia. So far, the young Reseda native has gone without a bone marrow match despite rounds of chemotherapy. Her story drew more than 700 possible donors who in July lined up outside the Woodland Hills Hospital, where she was receiving treatments.

“It breaks your heart,” Withers said of Allison's story.

Having nieces and nephews of her own, Withers hoped that if they one day needed bone marrow, people would also become donors in order to find their match.

The Duarte-based City of Hope, a cancer research hospital, conducts the drives throughout the state, looking for donors who match patients in need.

Scientists take donated samples, analyze the cells and cross-match them with those of patients in the national registry who need bone marrow transplants.

Last year, City of Hope hosted a similar three-day drive at the Glendale Fire Station 21.

That drive was aimed at finding Glendale Adventist Medical Center patient and 43-year-old Glendale resident Asatour Gasparyan a bone marrow match.

Officials hoped Glendale residents could also help out nearby Valley toddler Allison find a match during this year's drive, City of Hope representative Vivian Abernathy said.

“She's our little rock star,” she said.

Abernathy also wants Glendale residents to become more involved in helping the bone marrow registry and organizing more drives throughout the city.

If a donor matches a patient, the procedure, most of the time, is painless, said Jill Kendall, Be the Match Program director at City of Hope.

Donors will generally be given medicine, which lodges bone marrow from the pelvic bone into the blood stream, she said. The blood will be drawn from the donor's arms and later transplanted into the patient.

Another method used to extract bone marrow is to sedate the donor and remove bone marrow with a needle from the pelvic bone, Kendall said.

About 10,000 patients need bone marrow transplants every year, but less than half of them ever find a match, she said.

Donors must be between the ages of 18 to 60, be healthy and willing to donate to any patient.

Withers said she is generally healthy and would love to help someone in need.

“I am hopeful it will do some good for somebody,” she said.

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