Sporting yellow T-shirts with photos of six local Armenians in need of bone marrow transplants, volunteers at this year’s walkathon to benefit the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry scurried about Saturday morning getting ready for the Glendale event, which had about 500 participants — 100 more than last year, according to organizers.
The sixth annual walk, which creates awareness about bone marrow diseases and encourages people to donate, had more youth participants than ever before, said Frieda Jordan, a biochemist and founder of the registry.
Students came from several area schools and colleges such as UCLA, USC, CSUN and Glendale Unified, joining other participants as they walked from Glendale Memorial Hospital to Verdugo Park.
There are about 19,000 patients on the registry awaiting transplants, Jordan said, though not all of them are Armenian. The registry, founded in 1999, currently has about 22,000 prospective donors, up from 20,000 last year.
Jordan explained that many ethnic subgroups such as Armenians have difficulty finding matching donors because they are unique genetically and don’t often marry outside their ethnicity.
Lara Manjikian of Pasadena donated bone marrow in 2009 to her brother, who had leukemia. Even before her brother became ill, Manjikian had told him that he could count on her.
“I told my brother, ‘if you ever need blood, platelets, marrow — you can get it from me.’ I’d be the first in line for that. I would do anything for my brother,” she said.
It turned out she was a 100% match when her brother needed a bone marrow transplant. Today, he is cancer-free.
Manjikian said she would donate again even to someone she doesn’t know, adding that she is on the Armenian donor registry and marrow.org.
Arpine Zohrabyan of Tujunga donated last May to a 3-year-old girl she didn’t know. New technology has resulted in a procedure that is much less painful than an older method, which involved taking the marrow from a person’s hip. Today, blood is drawn, the cells that are needed are removed and the remaining blood is returned to the donor.
Doctors told Zohrabyan, however, that the girl would have the best chance to survive if the marrow came from her hip. She agreed to undergo the procedure. While she continued to feel pain for about a week, Zohrabyan knew it was the right choice.
“It’s a very small part of you to give to save a life,” she said.
The event drew local dignitaries including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Glendale Mayor Laura Friedman.
“You can imagine the trauma of a family that has an ill child whose only hope is a match on the bone marrow registry,” Schiff told the crowd. “The more we can expand that registry, the more we can give those children, young people and older people a chance to continue with a great life.”
Friedman told walk participants about a 26-year-old Latina she knew who had recovered from breast cancer, but the cancer treatments caused a rare side effect. She developed leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.
Doctors tried for a year to find a match for her. However, she died before a match could be found, leaving behind two small children, Friedman said.