BY LAWRENCE V. NAJARIAN, MD
On Saturday Aug. 31 and Sunday Sept. 1, Armenian Americans in the Washington DC area and those attending the AYF Olympics have the opportunity to help Armenians in need by participating in a painless cheek swab screening.
On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, volunteer health care professionals will be on hand at the AYF Olympics in Washington, DC to perform the simple screening test, which will generate data for the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry. (http://www.abmdr.am)
The screening event is being co-sponsored by ABMDR, Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO) of NY-NJ-CT, and Armenian American Health Association (AAHA) of Greater Washington, DC.
The ABMDR data are used to match Armenians in need of a genetic match for a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. About 200 Armenians are known to be in need of a match that could save their lives.
At this year’s event, the sponsors are featuring the case of Cici, who is a cousin of celebrity Kourtney Kardashian. After 17 years of battling cancer, CiCi’s body is no longer responding to chemotherapy and she is in need of a stem cell bone marrow transplant. In the past, AAHPO has publicized the cases of Debbi Margosian Chapman, Irene Katrandjian and young Charlotte Conybear.
Armenian DNA is distinct, and this becomes an issue when a genetic match is needed. Armenian patients will find their best chance for a match in the Armenian community. Health professionals are striving to motivate Armenians to participate in simple screening tests that will place their genetic data in a registry of possible donors.
Every year, thousands of patients are diagnosed with leukemia and other life-threatening blood diseases. On any given day, more than 6000 patients worldwide are searching for a donor. Many people erroneously believe that a genetic match usually comes from a family member.
“Only 25% of patients afflicted with leukemia or other life-threatening blood disorders find donors within their families. The other 75% of patients’ lives depend on finding a perfectly matched unrelated donor, usually from their own ethnic community,” noted Frieda Jordan, MD, who heads the Armenian Bone Marrow Donation Registry.
Another stumbling block is that many Armenian people don’t know that the screening test is a painless cheek swab. And when a genetic match is identified ,it’s easy to become a donor. Recent advances in transplantation technology that use peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection—a safe and non-invasive way of collecting life-saving stem cells from a donor.
PBSC collection is similar to giving blood; a donor’s stem cells are removed and the blood is returned to the donor. Within a couple of weeks, donor stem cells are replenished. There is no surgery, no anesthesia, and no cost to the donor. Those with questions are invited to call the AAHPO hotline at 201-546-6166.
“The Armenian American Health Association of Greater Washington, DC is very excited to collaborate with AAHPO and ABMDR. By working together, we will raise regional awareness of this pressing medical need,” noted Grigor Khachikian, MD, AAHA president.
All Armenians ages 18 to 50 and in good health are urged to be screened and have their data entered in the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (www.abmdr.am )