SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
The mixed ethnic heritage of the 3-year-old leukemia victim makes her a difficult match for a bone marrow transplant.
TAMPA - Katia Solomon is four months from her fourth birthday, but already she possesses an advanced vocabulary most of us would rather not think about.
Leukemia. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Hair loss. White blood cells. Transfusion. Bone marrow.
It's that last thing, bone marrow, that could save Katia's life.
Unfortunately for the Carrollwood child, whose ethnic heritage spans the globe, the odds of finding a donor are slim.
Of the nearly 5-million people registered as bone marrow donors in the United States, just 26 percent are minorities, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.
Even fewer - about 2 percent - are of multiple races like Katia, who is a mix of Irish, African-American, Hispanic, American Indian and Jewish.
But Katia hasn't given up since she was diagnosed with leukemia last year, so her parents and older sisters aren't giving up, either.
On Saturday, while Katia rested from a recent round of radiation treatments at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, her father, Myron Solomon, joined Florida Blood Services in a daylong drive to recruit minority marrow donors.
People signed up at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Plant City and at the Tampa Convention Center, host to a men's health fair and a Hispanic business conference.
After filling out a detailed medical history, potential donors held out their arms while a nurse took blood samples that will be tested for matches to patients.
By 5 p.m., 52 people at the convention center signed up for the National Bone Marrow Registry. Figures were not available for Mount Olive.
"We saw that gorgeous picture of her, and just wanted to help out," said Tampa teacher Amanda Perez, who signed up with her husband, Rick. He is from Costa Rica, she's from Puerto Rico.
Florida Blood Services will hold another marrow drive from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at USF's Marshall Center Building.
"When Katia's physicians look into that registry, we want to give them more choices," said Ivan D. Mangual, a recruiter for Florida Blood Services. "But this is a challenging mission."
Challenging because potential minority donors sometimes come from poor countries with unreliable medical systems, Mangual said. They have a deep mistrust of doctors.
Others are simply unaware of the need for minority marrow donors.
Myron Solomon was one of those people until April 15, 2002. That was the day Katia's doctors figured out the source of her fever and the persistent swelling around her right eye. Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.
For the next five months, Katia underwent chemotherapy treatments that left her bald, nauseated and in constant pain. Between September 2002 and last month, Katia went into remission.
She had the energy to dance with her dad and play with her sisters, Sharayah and Tatiana. Her dark, shiny curls grew back; her giggles filled the family's home in Carrollwood Meadows.
But the leukemia is back even stronger now. She has a lesion on her brain, and tumors growing around her optic nerves and tear ducts. Doctors say the only chance for Katia is a marrow transplant.
"It's harder for Katia this time, because she's more aware," said her father, who shaved his head to match Katia's. "But she won't give up. She takes her own temperature, her blood pressure, and she knows all the words: chemo, radiation. Next to her, I feel weak.
"I see her, and I just fold."
- Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 661-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.orgDonors sought
Anyone between the ages of 18-60 and in good health is eligible to become a volunteer marrow donor.For information, go to www.marrow.org or call Florida Blood Services at 727 568-2115. To learn more about Katia, go to www.caringbridge.org/fl/katia_leukemiapage/