Quest for more Armenian bone marrow donors continues

Peter Stephan’s search for a match to his rare and unique Armenian bone marrow began only recently, but his struggle with mantle cell lymphoma began years ago with sudden weight loss.

The 53-year-old Glendale resident lost a rapid amount of weight in November 2011. While he believed the weight loss was due to work-related stress, he still visited his doctor and soon discovered he had lymphomas in his abdomen and armpits.

“If you are not positive, you’re a blink away from depression,” he said.

Soon after, Stephan underwent various therapy treatments, including using his stem cells, for the lymphoma. The treatment appeared to be working, but then the lymphoma returned and he now needs a bone marrow transplant.

But finding a bone marrow match wasn’t going to be easy because Stephan is Armenian.

Years of intermarriage have made the Armenian genetic make-up unique, said Frieda Jordan, who president of the Armenian Bone Marrow Registry. As a result, bone marrow donations need to come from someone with a similar genetic match

Jordan and her organization have recruited more than 22,000 donors worldwide and have identified more than 1,500 potential matches.

Events like the Walk of Life on Saturday at Glendale Memorial Hospital, which sponsored it, allows organizations members to recruit potential donors and raise awareness about the need for Armenian bone marrow.

More than 350 people walked in the event and another 300 participants were recruited as potential donors, Jordan said.

“With every step you are going to take, just remember you are saving someone’s life,” she told participants.

Cynthia Bussey, who is TV reality star Kim Kardashian’s cousin, wasn’t able to attend the walk because she is undergoing chemotherapy as part of her long battle with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, but she works closely with Jordan and the organization to also increase awareness about bone marrow donations.

“It took this to happen to me to understand how important it is,” she said of being a donor.

While Bussey is still looking for her match, Stephan said City of Hope, a cancer hospital and research center, appeared to have found a donor for him.

Once Stephan’s life is saved, he hopes to find his donor and give them “a big, big hug.”

“It’s not bad to be a donor because you can save a life or your own family’s lives,” he said.


Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.

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