Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 6, 2011

Palo Alto mother seeks marrow donors for her son, or others

May Fete celebrants can register as potential donors at Addison Fair booth

by Chris Kenrick

As she watches her 12-year-old son grow weaker from repeated rounds of chemotherapy, Palo Alto resident Liz Poux stays focused on what will be needed to save his life.

Nico Poux, a seventh-grader who has lived with leukemia since the age of 6, is preparing for a bone-marrow transplant at Stanford Hospital. His family is casting the widest possible net for the most suitable donor.

Palo Altans will have a chance to help this Saturday as they celebrate the May Fete Parade.

In a booth at the parade's end at the Addison Elementary School fair, healthy adults can provide a swab of their cheek cells and enter themselves into an online registry of millions of potential donors.

The booth in honor of Nico, whose father is French Caucasian and mother is Korean American, is sponsored by the Asian American Donor Program — but is seeking volunteers of all races and ethnicities. The organization brings potential donors into the national Be the Match Registry, formerly known as the National Marrow Donor Program.

The odds of a registrant actually being called are about on par with winning the lottery, spokesman James de Lara said.

"This isn't just about Nico but about all the other people looking for donors," Liz Poux said.

"At Stanford alone, there are plenty of people having difficulty getting a match.

"I just hope we can get past this and try to move on. It's hard that my children's experience right now is still full of cancer, especially for Nico."

Nico is the middle of Liz and Philippe Poux's three children.

Though Liz Poux grew up locally and graduated from high school in Mountain View, the family has lived in Paris until moving here last summer.

Nico is enrolled in the International School of the Peninsula but has not been well enough to attend since October, his mother said. When he's up to it, teachers from the school sometimes have come to the house.

Born and raised in France, Nico is bilingual and has studied a third language — Spanish — at school. He enjoys reading, loves Star Trek, roots for the Cal Bears and hopes one day to become an oncologist, his mother said.

"He's had chemotherapy for a long time, and his body is now very, very tired," she said.

At Stanford alone, more than 275 patients are looking for donors, said Professor of Medicine Rob Negrin of the Medical School's Bone and Marrow Transplantation program.

"The problem we face when we're looking for someone who could be a donor ... is they have to share certain genes," Negrin said.

"There's a one in four chance that any sibling would match, but most of us don't have six, eight, 10 siblings," so it is common for patients to need alternative donors, he said.

The Be the Match Registry is among the largest in a global registry system.

"About 13 million people (worldwide) have volunteered to be donors for someone they've never met — it's really amazing," Negrin said.

"So let's say, we find somebody in China. They don't have to come here — they can donate locally and the cells are shipped here. On Sept. 11 when all the planes were grounded, there were six to eight products in the air at that moment," he said.

If a suitable match is found and verified, about 75 percent of the time donors can give through what's known as peripheral blood stem cell collection, in which blood is drawn from the arm. The other 25 percent have marrow collected from their hipbone while under anesthesia.

"If one were chosen to be a donor, it's a minor medical procedure," Negrin said.

"You give up some of your bone marrow cells, but they grow back."

For more information, contact the Asian American Donor program at www.aadp.org or 800-59-DONOR.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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