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    Drive seeks black marrow donors

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 16, 2002

    TAMPA -- Tonya Ghant knew something was wrong when her 20-pound baby became too heavy for her to lift. Ghant, then 22, was working out regularly.

    "I used to bench press 150 pounds," said Ghant, now 29.

    Doctors thought she had tendinitis or sickle cell anemia. But blood tests showed that she suffered from acute lymphioblastic leukemia, a malignant disease of the bone marrow.

    Shorty after her diagnosis in 1995, Ghant moved to Tampa from Indianapolis and started chemotherapy at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. She needed a bone marrow transplant but found it difficult to find a donor because she is African-American.

    It was more than a year before she found a match.

    "A doctor called two weeks before Christmas with the news," Ghant said.

    The donor was Steve Collins, a 42-year-old construction worker from South Carolina who was "petrified of needles," she said of the man she met two years after her transplant.

    Though an increasing number of African-Americans who need transplants are finding donors, they are still less likely than whites to get a match, said Helen Ng, a spokeswoman for the National Marrow Donor Program.

    As part of an effort to recruit minorities for bone marrow and blood stem cell donation, the National Marrow Donor Program and Florida Blood Services are holding a donor drive today in St. Petersburg. It is part of the African-American Health Forum at the Bayfront Medical Center, 701 Sixth Street S.

    Donors can give a small sample of blood to be tested and sign up to be listed on the National Marrow Donor Program registry.

    In 1988, African-Americans had a 4 percent chance of finding a bone marrow donor, Ng said. That is 59 percent today. Donors for Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and American Indians also have increased, she said. For more on bone marrow and stem cell transplantation, call toll free 1-800-627-7692.

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