By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Friends, family, and members of the Central Texas community appeared at Eastern Hills Middle School Library on Monday to donate particles from their mouth to try and help a local eighth-grade student with leukemia.
The more than 100 people who gathered in the school's library between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. had tissue samples taken from inside their mouths to help determine their bone marrow types. Any matches would be eligible to donate marrow to Patrick Mancuso, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December.
Acute myeloid leukemia is a very aggressive form of cancer where malignant cells overtake the bone marrow, said Maj. Vinod Gidvani, the chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at Wilford Hall Medical Center, in December.
Patrick does not have a bone marrow match in the National Marrow Donor Program, an international organization that doctors use to track down possible bone marrow transplant matches, and he is in need of finding someone in the system with matching cells, said Sharon Miller, Eastern Hills Middle School principal.
Since she heard of Patrick's cancer, Miller has been trying to get teachers, friends and family tested to see if they are a match for his bone marrow, she said.
"If I am trying to get all these teachers to Scott & White, why not bring Scott & White to them?" Miller said.
Miller decided to open up the school to whoever wanted to help Patrick by allowing Scott & White Medical Center to do a public donor drive. Miller sent letters home with students asking parents to help to encourage people to come, she said.
"We have had motorcycle groups, soldiers and other community members come in here," Miller said, looking at the various people who were in the school library filling out the background and sticking swabs into the backs of their mouths.
Several people came to the school to test to see they were a match for Patrick during their lunch break.
"I read about him and I wanted to help," said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Shiler, who drove from Fort Hood to Harker Heights during his lunch break.
People like Shiler had no problems donating the time for the test for the slight possibility of being a match for Patrick.
"It would be good if I was a match," Shiler said. "I know that if I was in his place I would want somebody to do the same thing and that why I am here."
The swab is only the first part of the test, said Taylor Russell, Scott & White search specialist for the marrow donor program. It will take a person's tissue and compare it to Patrick's as well as anyone else's on the National Marrow Donor Program.
If there is a person whose tissues matches Patrick's, then there will be blood sample taken to compare the marrow, and finally hopefully a transplant, Russell said.
The mouth swab and background questionnaire takes minutes to complete before spending about six weeks in labs before the results are determined, Russell said.
"It is just a waiting game, really," she said.
Marrow transplant matches are often best found among people who have the same racial background, and today a lot of diverse people have shown up, Russell said.
There is a possibility that drive will not find a match for Patrick, but those who donate did sign up to be on the National Marrow Donor Program and can help others who are in desperate need of their bone marrow, Russell said.
"We have four kids, so I would hope someone would take the whole 15 minutes to do this," said Brian Foot, of Harker Heights, who came out with his wife to apply during the drive.
Miller and Russell were both surprised to see so many people come out to help Patrick.
"I am really encouraged by the response of the community to come out and help someone in need," Russell said.
Miller will be visiting Patrick this weekend and taking with her care packages from his friends and teachers, she said.
The school has many resources, such as setting up his own Web site for homework, to let Patrick know that he is missed and he will be able to attend high school when he is better, said Judy Hodgins, school librarian.
"It makes us all stand back and think about how thankful we are for having these children in our life," Miller said.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7554