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Family seeks marrow donor for ailing grandmother

Canyon Country woman who has leukemia wants to live to meet her first great-grandchild

Posted: October 22, 2009 9:31 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2009 9:28 p.m.

Teresa Ramos and some of her family. Top row, from left to right: Memory Esquivel, Alexandra Rothenberg, Ester Lopez and Maribel Velez. Bottom row: Liz Lopez, Teresa Ramos, Magalie Franco and Natalie Franco.

 
Teresa Ramos’ children are depending on a total stranger to save their 64-year-old mother’s life.

As she battles acute leukemia, the Canyon Country woman’s life teeters on the hope of a perfect bone marrow match. But instead of desperately waiting for that rare match to find them, Ramos’ family and DKMS Americas, the worlds largest bone marrow donor center, have organized a bone marrow drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at Grace Baptist Church on Copper Hill Drive.  

“Right now, it’s our only hope,” said Ramos’ daughter Teresa Perez, 26, of Santa Clarita Valley.

Because Ramos’ perfect match is more likely to be of the same ethnic background, family and DKMS are especially seeking the help of the Hispanic community.

“Please help us,” Perez said. “My mother is such a caring and giving woman and it breaks my heart to see her confined to a hospital bed.”

Ramos is a mother of nine, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of a newborn baby that she has yet to meet.

“Because she cannot leave and the baby isn’t allowed to visit, my mom still hasn’t met the newest addition to our family,” Perez said.

Ramos was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last January. After going into remission for about a month, the cancer returned in July. On Sept. 7, a day after her daughter Perez’ birthday, Ramos was hospitalized.

Ramos faces challenging odds to find a perfect bone marrow donor.

Donor matches are more likely found in those with similar ethnic backgrounds, said Alexandra Rothenberg, DKMS donor recruitment manager. Only 10 percent of bone marrow registrants are Hispanic, she said.

“It’s hard to find a perfect donor match, it’s even harder when your ethnic group is under-represented in the national registry as it is right now,” Rothenberg said.

Rothenberg said she hopes to see at least 1,000 people turn out for the drive.

“The likelihood is fairly slim, but if we were to register a thousand people and they’re all the same background, who knows,” Rothenberg said. “One thing I can say, some people are definitely going to be a match for somebody.”

Doctors have not given the family a time frame for Ramos’ life.

“(The doctor) has gone as far as saying she’ll have a 10 percent chance of going on without a donor, but he won’t give us a time frame,” Perez said. “He let us know that the chemo she just underwent is to prolong her life without a donor.”

Perez said she misses visiting her mother and father in their Canyon Country home.

“I’ll stop by normally after work. Most of her kids do that,” she said. “She’s never alone when she’s home.”

The same goes while their mother is in the hospital.

Perez and her siblings rotate in 24-hour shifts visiting and caring for Ramos at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte.

“We’ve been kind of trying to keep up emotionally and physically because we have to keep her hopes up and spirits high,” Perez said. “But it’s getting to the point where it’s overwhelming. We’re desperate.”

The large family, all Santa Clarita Valley residents, wouldn’t be as close-knit if it wasn’t for their “glue,” Perez said. “Being a big family is hard. She’s what keeps us holding on and fighting for what we have.

“Hope is the last thing I will lose.”

Bone marrow registrants with New York-based DKMS Americas will be listed on the national Be a Match Registry.

Registrants must between the ages of 18 and 55, in good general health and meet medical eligibility guidelines.

Once a person is identified as a potential donor match, there are two potential ways to donate, according to information Rothenberg provided.

The first is a medication that enables the number of donor’s blood stem cells to increase. Cells are collected directly from the blood stream. The alternative is a bone marrow donation in which stem cells are directly collected from the pelvic bone.

DKMS Americas Web site is www.dkmsamericas.org.

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