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Communities rally to assist 9-year-old boy in need of bone marrow transplant to fight his life-threatening leukemia


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Oregon, Ohio: Life has been anything but normal lately for nine-year-old Oscar Sauceda.


Ever since doctors at Toledo Hospital diagnosed him with a form of high-risk leukemia on February 7, 2008, the third grader at Coy Elementary School has been receiving chemotherapy, says his mother, Jessica Villegas of Oregon.

Jessica Villegas with her son Oscar

“His chromosomes are low, and the treatment has left him with serious side effects including seizures and brain strokes. It has left him a little weaker and he walks slower,” says Villegas about the oldest of her five children.


The family’s one hope is that they can find a suitable match for a donor of bone marrow for a transplant that could save Oscar’s life. But in a world where only three out of ten patients ever find that lifesaving donor, they are going to need all the help they can get.


Fortunately, some of that help is on the way, thanks to Jessica Cartagena, a Latina in the Cleveland office of the National Marrow Donor Program,  Father Richard Notter of SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Toledo,  and Jill Duwuve and the administrative staff at Coy Elementary.


“I was referred to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) by Toledo Hospital,” says Villegas. That’s where she made contact with Cartagena, the program’s area representative for Ohio. “We hope to find a donor to match Oscar,” she adds.


The NMDP collaborates with Rainbow Babies Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.


Cartagena told La Prensa that finding a match for a bone marrow transplant is predicated upon race and ethnicity, and not factors such as blood types.


“Unfortunately, there are very few Latinos to be found in the NMDP registry because few Latinos donate marrow. The first source we look at is the patient’s family, but seventy percent of patients will not find a match within their own family.

“Every day, more than 6,000 patients scan the registry searching for a life-saving donor.  Diverse donors are critical because patients have the best chance of finding a match from within their own race.  Out of the seven million people searching for donors in the course of a year, 550,000 are Latinos,” explains Cartagena.


Cartagena says Oscar is the first Latino from this area to need a donor.


Jessica Cartagena

Cartagena has organized two bone marrow drives to help find a donor for Oscar and to increase awareness of the program among members of the Latino community.


The first drive will be held May 13, 2008, from 11:30 AM until 4:30 PM at Coy Elementary at 2630 Pickle Road in Oregon.


Father Notter is hosting the second drive at the family’s church, SS. Peter & Paul, on May 18 from 11 AM until 3 PM.  The events are open to the public.


Both the East Side and South Side of Toledo bone marrow drives are being coordinated with the NMDP’s May 5-19 national campaign to encourage more individuals to join the registry.  Cartagena points out that it is not coincidental that those two weeks bracket the celebration of Mother’s Day.


“What better way to say “Thanks Mom” for giving you life than to be part of this life-saving campaign,” says Cartagena, adding that the goal is to attract 46,000 new donors to the registry.


Cartagena, whose heritage is Puerto Rican/Hondurana, was born and raised in Cleveland. Bilingual, she is a graduate of Cleveland State University and is working toward her MBA at the University of Phoenix.  She is a member of the Hispanic Health Commission, the Minority Health Alliance, and Ohio Hispanic Social Workers.


She says that joining the NMDP Registry is as easy as swabbing the inside of your cheek with a cotton swab.


Cartagena also points out that the bone marrow donation process is not painful. “A general or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure. Donors feel no needle injections and no pain during marrow donation.


“The majority of donations do not involve surgery.  The procedure is non-surgical and done on an outpatient basis. If marrow is requested, that procedure is usually performed on an outpatient basis as well. Donors never pay any costs, all medical costs are paid for,” she explains.


DJ Bob Olivo of www.bnetradio.com, which is based in Houston but airs internationally via the Internet, interviewed Rico Neller of La Prensa on March 30, 2008 concerning the plight of Oscar. Olivo urged all listeners to do what they could to assist the 9-year old Latino. [See story at on BNetRadio at: https://laprensatoledo.com/Stories/2005/Dec%2014%202005/


April has been designated Minority Health Month. Make this month special for Jessica Villegas and her son Oscar. Visit: http://mih.ohio.gov/



You can find more information about the registry and the registry by visiting www.marrow.org or calling 1-888-862-7769, Ext. 103 or 106, or 1-800-MARROW-2. For more information on the May 13 drive at Coy Elementary, call Jill Duwuve at (419) 693-0624.






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