The Rev. Matt Moore walked around the fellowship hall of Trinity Baptist Church on Saturday thanking and shaking hands with dozens of people who were there to be tested and placed on a bone marrow registry.
Moore hopes one of them will be a match for his 5-year-old son, Alex, who was diagnosed in June with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder in which the body does not produce enough new blood cells.
An hour into the drive, nearly 100 donation kits had been collected.
Moore said the response from the community overwhelmed him. He said people were lined up outside at 10 a.m., an hour before the drive began.
“These people are really taking Alex personally, like they know him and they’re hurting for him, and they want him better,” he said.
The Moores moved to Augusta in January, when Moore accepted a position as pastor of Trinity. When he and his wife, Ivey, took Alex to the doctor June 4 for a sore throat, they had no idea just how sick he was.
The doctors gave Alex an antibiotic and sent him home. Instead of getting better, his fever spiked to 105. The Moores took him to the emergency room, where they began testing his blood. A bone marrow biopsy came back negative for leukemia.
“I asked the doctors if this could be anything else besides leukemia,” Moore said. “He said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘What else could it be?’ He said, ‘Worse.’ ”
Aplastic anemia is very rare, affecting between 600 and 900 people in the United States each year, according to the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation.
Alex receives treatments at home and gets blood transfusions about every six to eight days to slow down the destruction of his bone marrow, Moore said.
A bone marrow transplant could cure him.
Moore, his wife and their daughter, 7-year-old Maddie, had been tested but were not a match.
Rod Gunn, a community engagement representative for Be the Match marrow registry, said most patients do not have a bone marrow match in their families.
“Seventy percent of patients who need a bone marrow transplant have to turn to the Be the Match registry in the hopes of finding an unrelated donor with the same tissue type,” he said.
The process is simple. Potential donors – who are between 18 and 44 and in relatively good health – fill out a form and have the insides of their cheeks swabbed.
“With the cheek swab sample we learn what your HLA (human leukocyte antigen) tissue type is,” Gunn said. “That determines whether a patient is a match with a donor. Should a donor match a patient, they will be asked to donate either the bone marrow or their stem cells.”
Only one potential donor in 500 will ever be asked to donate, he said.
“What you are doing is you’re making yourself available to potentially match a patient and save a life,” Gunn said.
A person who is asked to donate stem cells will take a hormone to build up stem cells, which will be taken through a process much like donating plasma or platelets. The blood will be drawn through one arm, the stem cells removed, and the blood returned in the other arm.
A bone marrow donation, which Alex needs, is taken from the pelvis. It is a quick outpatient procedure done under anesthesia.
“Contrary to popular belief, most donors resume normal activities the very next day,” Gunn said.
Gunn said the turnout was great for Saturday’s drive.
Most were people from the community learned about the drive from television, newspapers, the church’s sign, word of mouth or the Pray for Alex Facebook page, said Jimi Waters, the church’s children’s director.
Church members were encouraged to be tested after services Sunday during a second drive, which will be held from noon to 3 p.m.
A bake sale is being held in conjunction with the drive. All proceeds will be donated to Be The Match.
Andrew Cherry-Graff learned about the drive when his mother texted him about it at 8 a.m.
“She said they were doing donations over here so we decided to come out,” he said. “We both donate blood. There are a lot of people who need it, a lot of people whose lives are on the line. I’m more than happy to donate.”