Sally Ann Roberts helps Kip Holden launch bone marrow donor drive

Sally Ann Roberts helps Kip Holden launch bone marrow donor drive
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POSTED: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 7:30pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 8:32pm

The mayor's office is challenging everyone in Baton Rouge to join the National Bone Marrow Registry, and he got help from one of the country's most famous donors.

Kip Holden, Sally Ann Roberts, and local health officials launched a 90-day donor challenge on Tuesday.

Roberts is well-known for her broadcasting career with WWL-TV in New Orleans, but she received national attention for donating bone marrow to her sister, Robin, after the Good Morning America star was diagnosed with a blood disorder.

"I didn't know very much at all," about the bone marrow donation process, Sally Ann Roberts recalled, "but I did know that I was going to do it."

WWL sponsored several registration drives on the Roberts' behalf, and GMA fans also signed up for the registry.

"Since Robin made the appeal to get people on the registry, more than 40,000 people have joined the registry," Sally Ann Roberts stated, "and that's what it's all about."

When he saw the Roberts' story, Holden asked the Mary Bird Perkins -- Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center what Baton Rouge could do. Doctors there came up with the idea of the challenge, with several events around the city to encourage people to sign up.

"Now we can save hundreds of people because of their ingenuity, and because of the fact that people chose to go and tackle a problem instead of running away," Holden said.

The Roberts' case was celebrated because a famous woman donated to her famous sister, but that is not common. Less than a third of bone marrow donations are between family members.

According to Be the Match, of the 10 million people on the donor registry, only 28 percent are racial minorities, while only seven percent are black. That is important because patients are more likely to find a match with people of the same ethnicity.

"There are people out there just like Robin," Sally Ann Roberts said. "But unlike Robin, they don't have a match. They are sick, they need healing. And there is someone, perhaps in Baton Rouge, or anywhere in the world, that can reach out and help. And it is a simple act that can save a life."

More than 10,000 people need bone marrow transplants every year. Dr. Vince Cataldo, an oncologist and hematologist from Mary Bird Perkins -- Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center said bone marrow transplants are being suggested more frequently by doctors to help patients after successful chemotherapy treatments. That increases the importance of adding potential donors to the registry. But people often choose not to sign up because they are afraid donating will be painful.

"If you can donate blood, you can do this," Sally Ann Roberts claimed. "The bone marrow transplant is not what it used to be, and it is something that can save lives."

The older method, in which a large, hollow needle is placed in the donor's back to extract marrow from the bone, is only done in approximately 20 percent of cases. Most transplants are done by apheresis. Doctors draw blood, take out the cells they need, then pump the blood back into the donor.

"Getting on the registry is pain-free, and if you're fortunate enough to be able to save a life through donation, being a donor is pain-free," Dr. Cataldo said.

Sally Ann Roberts said her donation took nearly eight hours, spread over two days. She watched news coverage of Hurricane Isaac while sitting in the chair at the hospital.

"I did not feel any debilitating effects as a result of this," she mentioned. "I did not feel even weary. I didn't feel anything.

"People say, 'well, Sally Ann, how are you doing?' I'm doing fine! I was doing fine immediately after the harvesting took place. It has no affect on me as a donor. But for those who are waiting, it can be life-saving."

To sign up for the donor registry, a person must be between 18-44 years old and and meet certain health criteria.

Renea Duffin, VP of Cancer Support and Outreach for the cancer center, said it has set a modest goal of signing up 250 people over these 90 days. There are six planned events:

Wed., August 13: Bon Carre Business Center, 7359 Florida Blvd, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Wed., August 20: Southern University's Smith Brown Memorial Union, 500 Jesse N. Stone, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. 

Sat., August 23: Pennington Biomedical Research Center, 6400 Perkins Road, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. 

Fri., September 5: Perkins Rowe Shopping Center, 10202 Perkins Road, 6-8 p.m. 

Mon., September 22: Our Lady of the Lake Heart and Vascular Institute, 7777 Hennessy Blvd, 12-1 p.m. (RSVP required, call 225-215-1288)

Sat., November 1: A.W. Mumford Stadium, 1-5 p.m. 

Anyone interested in creating their own donor registry event may contact Madonna Phillips at 225-910-4872.

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