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Life-Savers in Race Against Time for Marrow Donors : Transplant: The group has helped swell donor numbers to 90,000. For many leukemia patients who need the marrow, time is running out.

March 11, 1990|KAREN KINGSBURY

Adam Brock doesn't look like a sick child.

He is 10 years old, loves to tackle his younger brothers and shoot baskets out front of his Tarzana home. His bedroom is plastered with posters of Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and John Candy. On his bookshelf are more than a dozen baseball and basketball trophies. And a picture of himself with longer hair.

But near his closet are two shelves that look like they belong in a hospital. They contain needles, a sterile solution used with intravenous injection devices and assorted oral medications. There is an infectious waste container nearby.

These have become more important to Adam than all his trophies combined.

Adam has leukemia.

Each day, his mother loads a tray with needles and solutions and flushes out two lines that were surgically implanted in Adam's chest in December. The lines make it easier for doctors to draw blood and administer chemotherapy--as they will again starting Monday.

Doctors have given Adam one year to find a bone marrow donor. Otherwise, they say his disease will be fatal.

"Not too long ago one year would never have been enough time to find a donor," said Dr. Rudi Brutoco, a Covina pediatrician who, in September, 1988, started an organization called Life-Savers Foundation that recruits marrow donors. "Today it is reasonable to think that Adam will find a donor in time."

In less than two years, Life-Savers has organized enough donor drives nationwide to increase the number of donors listed with the National Marrow Donor Program from 17,000 to nearly 90,000. Brutoco has set a goal of increasing the list to 150,000.

"Even with all the people who have been tested and put into the national bank, there are still people who don't have a match available," Brutoco said. "And so we must keep working on it."

Life-Savers gained national attention recently for helping Anissa Ayala, 17, a Walnut teen-ager who has leukemia. Mary Ayala, the girl's 43-year-old mother, conceived a child hoping its bone marrow would match Anissa's and that a transplant would save the teen's life. Tests sponsored by Life-Savers showed that the unborn baby girl's bone marrow does match Anissa's and when the child is 6 months old, a transplant probably will be performed. A search is still being conducted for a compatible match for Anissa, and if one is found the family would not need to use the baby's marrow.

"Children are the best donors of all," Brutoco said. "People have jumped all over this because they thought we were going to use the marrow and throw away the baby. That's absolutely ridiculous." The plan to use the baby's marrow has been criticized for the ethical dilemma it raises in bringing a child into the world to save another.

There is a 25% chance that two siblings will share a common bone marrow type, but the odds of matching up with a stranger are 20,000 to 1.

The parents of Adam Brock and Dean Schmitt, a 15-year-old Thousand Oaks boy with leukemia, have ruled out the possibility of having another child in the hopes of finding a bone marrow match.

"But both of them would do it if they could," Brutoco said. "The fact is, they really don't have time. Those boys need donors very quickly because their forms of leukemia move much swifter than the kind Anissa has."

For that reason, Life-Savers has organized several donor drives for the boys, including one for Adam Brock that will take place today from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Stratton's Restaurant in Encino. The drive will be held in conjunction with a fund-raising brunch that will cost $50 per adult and $15 per child under 18. Children age 3 and under are free and all proceeds will go to Adam Brock's account with Life-Savers.

Blood tests to scan potential donors cost $75 apiece. Although friends and family members have raised more than $60,000 for Adam's donor drives, they have used all the money and still have not found a donor, according to Laurie Brock, the boy's mother.

"It is sometimes difficult to convince people to be tested because they think they're giving a lung or a kidney or something," Brutoco said. "It's not like that, but it's our job to educate the public."

During a transplant procedure, 5% of a donor's marrow is taken while the donor is under a light anesthesia. Normal activity may resume the next day and the donor's marrow replenishes itself within 10 days.

One problem leukemia patients face is the reluctance of some potential donors listed with the national bank. Last week, a Seattle woman scheduled to donate marrow to Tarzana attorney Marc Smith, 36, changed her mind about undergoing the procedure.

"This is always a problem we face," Brutoco said. "People get into the bank because they wanted to help a friend or relative and when it turns out that they match up with a stranger in another state, they back out."

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