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Saving a life with a Q-Tip
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HEY KIDS (18 or older), here’s something that you can try at home:

Get a Q-Tip. Grasp it firmly, and swab the inside of your mouth, between your lower left cheek and gum. Now do that three more times, in the other corners of your mouth.

If you can handle the level of discomfort inflicted by a cotton swab, and you are between ages 18 and 60, you’ve got what it takes to be tested as a potential bone marrow donor.

Somehow, a lot of folks, myself included, have heard that being a bone marrow donor is a painful process from start to finish. It turns out that this myth, like most, is a falsehood based on old information and assumptions.

Not only is the donor test a simple DNA swipe, but the donation process, once painful to the donor, has become little more than an inconvenience thanks to medical advances.

That is good news for Anthony Mastrianni, 56, a math teacher at Ebenezer Middle School who needs someone’s donated bone marrow to fend off the cancer he’s been dealing with off and on since 1998. Since his own sister was not a match, Mastrianni is hoping for a match from an unrelated donor. The more potential donors, the greater the chance of a match for Anthony.

“The old way of getting marrow, which is digging into your hip, is painful,” says Monica Mastrianni, Anthony’s wife. Nowadays the donation process usually involves taking blood from one arm and then “running it back through another arm. It’s really taking stem cells from somebody whose DNA is compatible with his.”

Anthony’s two previous bouts with a form of non-Hodgkins lymphocytic lymphoma were treated with chemotherapy and radiation.

“This time when it came back it has gotten stronger and more resistant to the drugs,” says Monica. “After the chemo the tumors had actually grown instead of getting smaller.”

A donor can come from anywhere in the world, thanks to an international registry. When a match is found, the donor stays at home, donating at a nearby medical facility. Only the donor’s marrow is transported.

Despite an international pool of donor candidates, friends and colleagues of the Mastrianni’s are hoping that a match can be found closer to home. Last week, Ebenezer Middle School sponsored a donor drive that brought out over 125 donor candidates.

The school is planning another drive for January 30, according to Monica. Plans are under way for marrow drives at the Tybee YMCA and at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Thomas & Hutton Engineering Co. is sponsoring a marrow donor drive this Thursday at their midtown Savannah office.

“We became involved because we work with Greenline Architecture, which is where Monica is an architect,” says Gale Jackman, Contracts Administrator at Thomas & Hutton and their coordinator for the marrow drive.

The Savannah based engineering firm, working with Suzanne Shelledy at Greenline, has reached out to the area’s network of engineers and architects, seeking potential donors. Anyone in the community is encouraged to come by and get swabbed.

“Thomas & Hutton is committed to giving back,” says Jackman. “We hold blood drives six times a year for the Blood Alliance. This just kind of fits in with how we give.”

Over at Greenline, Shelledy noted that earlier this month, Thomas & Hutton sponsored a “Blue Jeans Friday” in which the 160 employees could wear jeans to work for a donation of at least five dollars. Along with a contribution from the Thomas & Hutton company, $1000 was raised that day for a bone marrow donor fund established at The Coastal Bank for Anthony.

The DNA test costs $25 in lab processing fees, so “the fund was set up for people who can’t afford it,” says Monica.

And how is Anthony doing? “He has up and down days,” says Monica, “recovering from the previous chemo. He is very touched and humbled by all this care and concern, no doubt about that. He hopes it can help a lot of people, not just him.” cs

Marrow Donor Drive for Anthony Mastrianni

When: Thu., January 22, 11 am – 6 p.m.

Where: Thomas & Hutton Engineering Co.

50 Park of Commerce Way

Info: Call Gale at 912/721-4110 for information, and Suzanne at Greenline Architecture for dates of future marrow drives, 912/447-5665