Augusta family organizes bone marrow registry drive

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They held bake sales. They set up lemonade stands. They went online to donate. All over the Augusta area, hundreds of people, many of them children, raised an astonishing amount of money on behalf of 8-year-old cancer patient Brennan Simkins that will go to cancer research. Now Brennan's family is hoping to help a lot of other people with cancer.

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Brennan Simkins (left) and Patrick Chance, both cancer patients, have been able to donate $200,000 to cancer research.  Special
Special
Brennan Simkins (left) and Patrick Chance, both cancer patients, have been able to donate $200,000 to cancer research.

Blanchard and Calhoun Real Estate Co. and Press On -- a nonprofit associated with Cure Childhood Cancer -- will hold a bone marrow donor registry drive from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday at several area locations. The effort will involve more than 250 volunteers, said Susan Rice, Brennan's grandmother and the sales manager for Blanchard and Calhoun's west Augusta office.

"No one has turned us down," she said. "Everybody has just embraced it."

Brennan was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2009 and in October received his third bone marrow transplant, this one from his father, Turner. His second bone marrow transplant came from a donor on the national registry.

"Brennan was lucky," Turner Simkins said, that a number of potential matches were there.

One of the children Brennan knew at Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center died awaiting a donor, he said. The problem is particularly acute for minority patients in that matches tend to fall within ethnic groups, and few are on the national list.

"That's why I am so encouraged about the diversity of Augusta getting behind this thing," Turner Simkins said. "If there's an opportunity, whether it is the African-American community or the Hispanic community, there are a lot of kids out there that need a match."

Brennan and fellow cancer patient and friend Patrick Chance, who is battling neuroblastoma, have been able to donate $200,000 to cancer research: $100,000 to AML research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where Brennan is a patient; and $100,000 for a neuroblastoma trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Turner Simkins said.

Even if it doesn't help them in the future, "it's going to help somebody," he said.

All of that has been made possible by the community response, particularly the children, Turner Simkins said.

"The majority of them don't know him, never met him," he said. "From that perspective I have to just say we're not only flattered that Brennan would be the beneficiary of that much love but just as much we're so impressed by how good these kids are."

Rice said she is not surprised her community would respond so well.

"I think Augusta is a wonderful community, and this just shows how terrific the people are who live here, that they will reach out and support a little boy," she said.

Brennan's journey, as tough as it has been, has also been enlightening for the family, Rice said.

"There are many lessons we've learned from Brennan, and one of the most important is that you celebrate every single day of life," she said. "Every day is a gift, and he has reinforced that with everyone. I think a lot of people have reconnected with that philosophy of life as a result of him."

Bone marrow donor registry

A communitywide bone marrow donor registry drive will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Registration requires only a swab of the cheek and not blood. Joining the registry is free. Donors must be 18 to 55 years old.

WHERE TO REGISTER

  • Augusta State University, Jaguar Student Activities Center, 2500 Walton Way
  • Augusta Technical College, Jack B. Patrick Information Technology Center, 3200 Augusta Tech Drive
  • Augusta Technical College in Waynesboro, 216 Georgia Highway 24 S.
  • Augusta Technical College in Thomson, 388 Tech Drive N.W.
  • Blanchard and Calhoun, Evans office, 1202 Town Park Lane
  • Blanchard and Calhoun, south Augusta office, 4110 Spring Road
  • Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center, 1446 Harper St., second floor
  • MCG Cancer Center, 1411 Laney-Walker Blvd.
  • Paine College, 1235 15th St.
  • Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, 2261 Walton Way
  • Warren Baptist Church, 3203 Washington Road

THINGS TO KNOW

  • You don't have to give marrow to help. Most bone marrow transplants are now accomplished through peripheral blood stem cells. If marrow is required, it is taken out of the pelvic bone under anesthesia in an outpatient procedure.
  • Families can donate cord blood, the blood left in the umbilical cord after birth, to the National Marrow Donor Program.

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