By Maegan Ortiz
Hundreds of East Los Angeles College community members lined up last Thursday outside the E-7 Technology Center to try to help save 2-year-old Sofia Flores’s life.
The bone marrow drive hoped to find a match for Sofia, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia that affects only one percent of leukemia patients.
A bone marrow transplant is her only hope of survival.
Dozens of volunteers, including members of Sofia’s family, dressed in bright orange t-shirts reading “Team Sofia,” collected samples and handed out informational flyers.
“We’ve done a couple of drives and we haven’t found a donor, but we’re hopeful and in high spirits,” Luis Flores, Sofia’s cousin, said.
Generally, family members are the best match for a bone marrow transplant, but Sofia rejected her father Ignacio’s marrow earlier this month.
The renewed campaign to find a bone marrow donor for Sofia started this month, but previous searches were held last fall.
Sarah Arroyo from Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M), a recruitment center for Be the Match that manages the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world, said that there have been about 20 drives for Sofia to date.
“It’s a lot easier than people think to join the registry and to donate,” Arroyo said.
The initial screening process took less than 10 minutes per person.
Individuals first filled out a general health form, followed by a consent form saying if they are chosen they will donate their marrow.
Then the inside of both cheeks were swabbed 10 seconds with four long cotton swabs to match the DNA.
President of ELAC’s Feminist Majority Club Tiffany Guo who hosted the drive, reminded people that the simplicity of the initial process should not be misconstrued.
“It is a commitment. Once you register with Be the Match, you stay in the system until your 61st birthday…but ultimately you are saving a life” Guo said.
If someone is a match, they are contacted to see if they want to donate bone marrow.
The most common way to donate is Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Donation, which is similiar to a blood transfusion.
One out of four donors will be given an anesthetic while a needle takes liquid from the pelvis bone.
“The soreness after this procedure lasts for about a week, to a week and a half. In both procedures, the cells come back to your body in four to six weeks so your body can replenish itself and it doesn’t cause any permanent damage,” Arroyo said.
While the urgent need to save Sofia’s life was the primary reason for the drive, some participants saw the bigger picture.
“There could be a chance that I could help in a small way and make a difference and if I’m not compatible with her I could be compatible with other kids,” ELAC student Paula Aparicio said.
“We do want to find a donor for Sofia but we are helping out other people who need a match,” Flores said.
While family members said Sofia is in good spirits and always smiling, her situation is dire.
Two weekends ago, Sofia was admitted into the intensive care unit.
ELAC kinesiology professor Marilyn Ladd initiated the drive after seeing a report about Sofia on the local news.
Ladd thought ELAC was the perfect place to hold a bone marrow drive for Sofia.
The little girl is half Hispanic, half caucasian and the school population is diverse.
“I wanted to get something started here to find a match for this young baby, this little angel. It all snowballed from there,” Ladd said.
Within the first hour of the drive, more than 50 samples had been collected.
“The community has been good. We’re really grateful,” Luis Flores said.
Some were not surprised by the positive reaction.
“I know this community. I expected a good response,”Ladd said.
The response was so good that the drive was extended from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The entire football team delayed practice to participate.
Information about the drive was plastered throughout the campus and Sofia’s image greeted people on the the campus marquis on Cesar Chavez Avenue.
For those who could not attend last week’s drive but would like to see if they are a match or want more information, go online to www.a3mhope.org or join.bethematch.org/teamsofia and find the link to register online. A3M will send you a postage paid kit to submit your donation.
Sofia has about two months to find her donor.
Sofia’s uncle Jose Monroe Flores said that, while the entire experience has been hard for the family, seeing the community turn out has given them extra strength and hope for Sofia’s cause.