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Saving Jacob

Hundreds line up to see if they are compatible bone marrow donors for two-year-old leukemia patient

Posted: September 7, 2008 9:35 p.m.
Updated: November 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Volunteers at First Christian Church in Canyon Country label kits with cheek swabs during a bone marrow drive Sunday. The drive was aimed at finding a donor for Jacob Fierro, a two-year-old with leukemia who lives in Canyon Country.

Jacob Fierro couldn't be there to see it. But if he were, the two-year-old would know the Santa Clarita Valley is thinking about him.

Jacob is two years old and was diagnosed with leukemia in January. He needs a bone marrow transplant.
Jacob was hospitalized Saturday with breathing problems and an irregular heart beat, said Margie Fierro, Jacob's grandmother. Jacob is under sedation and breathes with the help of a ventilator.

As Jacob clung to life Sunday, members of the First Christian Church in Canyon Country and volunteers from City of Hope held a bone marrow drive from 2 to 6 p.m. More than 150 people lined up to have their cheeks swabbed to see if they are compatible donors for Jacob.

It took four trips to the doctor for a fever that would not break before Jacob was sent to an oncologist to test for Cancer, Margie Fierro said. The diagnosis came two weeks before Jacob's second birthday. "He spent his second birthday in the hospital," she said.

"It's so random," said Jacob's father Anthony Fierro. His first reaction to his son's diagnosis was shock. Then came acceptance followed by constant trips to the doctor and the realization Jacob needed a bone marrow transplant to live.

"You go into action mode," said Bill Haley pastor of First Christian Church. Haley opened up the church because members of the congregation are good friends of the Fierro's and Haley knows too well about the difficulty in finding a bone marrow donor. Haley's daughter needed a bone marrow transplant in 1990 and it took six weeks to locate a donor. Luckily it was Haley's son who was compatible.

There is 30 percent chance someone in the family is compatible, said Vivian Abernathy of City of Hope.

"Normally we have to reach outside the family for a donor and that's what the events are for," she said.

The bone marrow drives are a win-win for all families who are dealing with leukemia and other bone marrow related illnesses. People participating in the bone marrow drives are put into a national registry and anyone who needs a transplant can access the list to find an eligible donor, Abernathy said.

The Fierro family is also being tested to see if any of them is compatible, Margie Fierro said.

Getting involved in bone marrow drives and being on the national registry is vital, said Stephanie Farah, a volunteer with city of Hope. Farah knows how hard it is to find donors. Her husband died in 2007 from leukemia. None of his family members were compatible.

She emphasized the need for minorities to get involved. It is easier to find a compatible donor within an ethnic group and minorities are often underrepresented. She also said being a donor gives some a chance to do something really special.

"You are truly donating life," she said.

"I came because I would want someone to do the same for my kids," Linda Steinberg said. Steinberg doesn't know the Fierro's besides what she learned Sunday morning at her church in North Hills.

The Steinberg's go to Our Savior First Lutheran and Jacob's story was in the weekly church announcement.

So was information about the bone marrow drive and directions to the event. "We skipped grocery shopping after church and came directly here," Steinberg said.

Jennifer Bittick knows the Fierro's well. Her son Aidan is 3 and plays with Jacob. The play dates are often put on hold when Jacob is going through chemotherapy and is too weak to play or if Aidan has a cold and Jennifer doesn't want to risk Jacob's health. "It rips my heart out as a mother, friend and as a woman to see what they are going through," she said. Bittick swabbed her mouth and hoped that someone in the room is the donor the Fierro's are looking for.

Like most two-year-olds, Jacob doesn't completely understand how serous his condition is, Margie said.

Her grandson still smiles and bounces all over the room. His favorite movie is Shrek and Jacob tries to sing all the songs from the movie, she said.

When Jacob has the energy, he dances around the house and plays. Even when Jacob is sick from chemotherapy his bubbly nature shines through, Margie said. "He'll throw up and when he's done he says ‘all done' and smiles," she said.

A ventilator and sedation allow Jacob's body to rest so the fluid in his tiny lungs can be drained out, Anthony Fierro said. After spending all Saturday and most of Sunday by his son's side Anthony stopped by the bone marrow drive. The people lined up to see if they can save Jacob's life was very encouraging, Fierro said. "We feel really lucky," he said.

"Hopefully Jacob will be lucky enough to find a donor among the people here," Farah said.


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