Originally created 09/06/97

Giving for life



AIKEN -- A syringe pricked Mignon Scruggs' arm, and crimson began filling the plastic pouch dangling below her chair.

In less than 15 minutes, her name was added to the American Red Cross' national bone marrow list, already occupied by more than 2.5 million. On Friday, nearly 200 strangers like Ms. Scruggs lined the walls of the H. Odell Weeks Center to give a dying man a second chance at survival.

They came from miles away, from places including Augusta, Columbia and Fairfax, S.C., to test and register for the bone marrow registry or to donate a unit of blood.

"A few minutes of my time is enough to give someone who is dying a lifetime," the New Ellenton native said. "It's the responsibility of any Christian to help their fellow man."

Ms. Scruggs was referring to Robbie Culbreath, a 26-year-old Aiken County native diagnosed in 1995 with chronic myelogenous leukemia - a cancer that attacks bone marrow. Doctors have searched the national registry monthly for two years with no success. None of his immediate family, the most likely donor candidates, were found to be suitable marrow matches.

So Mr. Culbreath is depending on the kindness of strangers to save his life.

But he is not alone.

Less than one-third of patients needing bone marrow transplants have an identically-matched sibling. Since 1986, such transplants have been extended to another one-third of patients through the use of volunteer, unrelated donor registries.

In less than three weeks, the Red Cross will determine whether Mr. Culbreath has found a donor match.

Mona Martin, an organizer of Friday's event, had a bone marrow transplant nine years ago. Her own marrow had depleted and she was living on platelets.

"That was the only chance they gave me," the Aiken County woman said. "I was dying and I knew it."

Tom Brock, who has known the Culbreath family for years, said he just wanted to help.

"I've been granted good health by the grace of God, and it's time to give something back," he said.

A week ago, Mr. Culbreath's parents, Rob and Ginny Culbreath, issued a challenge to local residents, saying, "Prove to us that you are indeed an AllAmerica city. Be a part of saving this child's life."

"I have my proof now," Mrs. Culbreath said Friday. "I'm just so proud. It's just been an outpouring of love. They have given Robbie and others like him the gift of life."