Colonial Heights rallies for second bone marrow drive for local children
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 28, 2013, 12:28
photo by Caitlin Davis David Patsel, filling out paperwork to become a donor, said “You just feel led where you could do something to help others. That’s really the key thing, this little boy, that would be awesome and what’s really cool is the database you’re being put into.”
A picture of smiling student Ryan Bell was taped to the door of Tussing Elementary on Saturday to greet the hundreds of people filing through the doors to help make him well.
At 3:30 on Christmas morning, Ryan Bell’s father Paul Bell received the news that his son had aplastic anemia, a blood disorder in which bone marrow cannot adequately produce new cells to replace existing blood cells.
Paul Bell said his son has his good days and his bad days, depending on his blood cell count. Even so, the illness has not diminished his spirit.
“He’s a vibrant 9 year old boy who takes all this in stride and keeps getting it,” Paul Bell said. “And doesn’t let anything effect him. To look at him, you wouldn’t really know he’s sick.”
Paul Bell said that ever since he took his son to the doctor because of severe bruising that was appearing on his legs and sides, the child has continued to put others before himself.
While looking at his son lying in a hospital bed recently, Paul Bell could tell there was something on the child’s mind and asked if he was okay.
“He tells me he doesn’t want to see me cry anymore,” Paul Bell said.
The bone marrow drive, organized by Delete Blood Cancer-DKMS, was imperative said Tina Burton, Delete Blood Cancer volunteer.
“Actually, finding a match is incredibly difficult,” Burton said. “So, it’s really important as many people as possible come out.”
The potential donors were given a Q-tip swab on the inside of each cheek to be tested to see if they would be a match. Although the tests costs Delete Blood Cancer-DKMS approximately $65 each, they are free for potential donors.
Christian Montgomery, donor recruitment coordinator with the organization, said blood cancer patients often do not respond to chemotherapy treatments and only survive by receiving stem cells from another person.
“Only 30 percent find [a match] within in their families, so many of these people need a complete stranger, need a match to come from a complete stranger,” Montgomery said. “Our organization’s goal is to register as many potential donors so we find lifesaving matches for every blood cancer patient.”
Montgomery knows how it feels to save someone’s life. He once came up as a match and went through the bone marrow extraction. He dispelled what he said is the number one myth about the process, that it is painful. Montgomery said the benefits far outweigh any possible negatives.
“It was great for me. It was a no brainer,” Montgomery said. “If you can save someone’s life for a couple days of inconvenience, you do. And now we’re four years out of transplant and my patient is 100 percent perfect, complete recovery.”
Montgomery is also part of a very small statistic; only one percent of donors ever receive the call that they are a match. Despite the odds, Paul Bell is holding onto that hope that someone will prove a match for his son, or someone else’s son or daughter.
“My hope is to find someone,” he said. “A donor, find someone a match, whether it be Ryan or some kid in California.”
Colonial Heights resident Dona Fontaine wore a smile on her face on Saturday, even though she is battling leukemia, another kind of blood cancer. Fontaine, like Ryan Bell, is looking for a match.
“It’s overwhelming, it’s very heartwarming,” Fontaine said, looking at the crowd in the cafeteria of the Colonial Heights school. “It’s just overwhelming. Colonial Heights is a great city to live in. I don’t know any other word than heartwarming. It’s an awesome event and hopefully Ryan or I will be a match with someone here, but somebody’s going to be benefited by it, absolutely.”
Also at the event on Saturday was Quinlan Thomas, a Colonial Heights toddler who was diagnosed with AML leukemia last year and was given a 50 percent chance of survival. A bone marrow drive was held for him last August.
Tony Thomas, Quinlan’s father, said he and his son weren’t going to miss Ryan Bell and Fontaine’s drive for “anything in the world.”
“It will be something that is always close to your heart,” Tony Thomas said. “We also participate with anything to do with bone marrow trials, because that’s what it takes. It saves their lives, and honestly, Paul came to Quinlan’s.”
Now, Quinlan is doing well. His numbers are at healthy levels and his doctors expect nothing but good things, Tony Thomas said. He hopes for the same results for Ryan Bell, whose family the Thomases intend to continue supporting.
“We will always participate,” Tony said. “It’s important, it’s extremely important.”
David Staples, principal of Tussing Elementary, said the child everyone has turned out to help is a sweet and happy-go-lucky young man with a heart melting smile and a personality to light up a room.
“The innocence of this young man, and the positive smile,” Staples said, describing his thoughts on the student.
Staples said 30 of his teachers were there on Saturday, to help volunteer and promote awareness of the importance of bone marrow screenings.
“I’m proud of my teachers, but I’m just as proud of the city and how they respond to the needs of other citizens,” he said, noting the spirit of the community was captured that day at the bone marrow drive.
“People say that living in Colonial Heights, you live in a fishbowl. Everybody knows your business,” Staples said. “But it’s events like this, the needs of people, really does bring out the positives of people living in our small city. People do come together, people do want to help out, and would do anything to help out.”
Elke Gibbs, who works for the City Manager’s office in Colonial Heights, was another community member who came out Saturday to help. Her son, Jaxon Gibbs, has been diagnosed with Coat’s Disease, a rare eye disorder. Burton, who helped arrange the marrow drives for Quinlan Thomas and Ryan Bell also helped the Gibbs family plan a Coat’s disease awareness event last October. On Saturday, Elke Gibbs wanted to return the favor, and reach out to Ryan and Fontaine.
“No matter what the event is, they always come together as a community,” Gibbs said. “It’s very overwhelming.”
photo by Caitiln Davis Colonial Heights Mayor Scott Davis swabs the inside of his cheek to test for matches at the bone marrow drive.
Scott Davis, Mayor of Colonial Heights, was there to swab his cheek and add his name to the database of potential donors.
“Anytime that there is a family...that is in need or a person that is hurting or needs help, the community comes together in support, and I think that’s one of the greatest attributes of living in Colonial Heights,” Davis said. “It is all about the community of service and caring.”
Paul Bell, who has been a part of the Colonial Heights community since 1976, said he was overwhelmed by the support he was getting, as people approached him to offer words of encouragement.
“It’s obvious there’s good people here,” Paul said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this community and definitely grateful and humble for what is taking place here today. It’s definitely an amazing thing.”
Tears filled his eyes as he talked about the young man who inspired the drive.
“He’s a funny kid. He’s amazing,” Paul Bell said. “He’s my angel here on Earth...You know he’s a normal kid. He’s very loving and caring. Happy. He stays happy, there’s a smile on his face. He will do anything for you. That’s what amazes me. He thinks more of other people than he does himself.”
Those who missed the drive on Saturday can still become possible donors. To register to become a donor, visit deletebloodcancer.org.