Stamford seventh-grader hosting bone marrow donor drive Super Bowl Sunday

Posted: February 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm

STAMFORD — Justin Wexler, 12, a seventh-grader at Scofield Magnet Middle School, is asking Stamford residents to "be a super hero on Super Bowl Sunday" by registering to be a bone marrow donor.

Justin is hosting a donor drive at the Jewish Community Center, at 1035 Newfield Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday for his mitzvah project, a contribution to the community before his bar mitzvah.

"Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time to do this early in the day and get back home in time to watch the game," said Justin, who will be rooting for the Giants on Sunday.

The donor drive will take about six minutes for each participant from start to finish, he said, calmly spelling out the detailed process step-by-step as he sat at the head of his family’s dining room table Tuesday afternoon, his bright blue eyes shining.

"You walk into the JCC, and first you’ll come to a station and they’ll tell you the eligibility requirements ... then you fill out a basic registration form and go off to the swabbing station," he said. Each donor will then take a swab from the inside of their left and right cheek and wrap their samples up with their information.

"That’s it. It doesn’t take long," he said. "But think about what could come from it."

Justin came up with the idea for a bone marrow drive around Thanksgiving, as he and his mother reflected on his father’s experiences as a bone marrow donor for a woman in Long Island about two years ago. Justin’s grandfather also donated bone marrow before Justin was born. The idea that his family members were able to save others’ lives so easily stuck with him.

There are nearly 3 million potential donors registered with DKMS, the bone marrow donor center through which Justin will run his drive. But with a new diagnosis every four minutes, the donor reserves still aren’t enough; 60 percent of bone cancer patients never receive the transplants they need.

"It’s like finding a needle in a haystack," Justin said. His hope is that his drive will add 180 new names to that registry, and that someone will someday be a match for someone else in need. He chose the number 180 because it is a multiple of 18, a spiritual number in the Jewish faith that has strong ties to "life."

"It’s mitzvah, and trying to give someone else a life, so we thought 180 would be a good goal," he said. Continued...

While Justin said he is hoping to sign up scores of potential donors, he stressed that people should not register if they’re not absolutely certain they will be willing to go through with the transplant. He mentioned a boy around his age in Texas that he met around the holidays, who recently found a non-related donor for his second transplant after a transplant from his brother did not work as well as he and his doctors had anticipated.

"Imagine if they found him a match and then they said no," Justin said.

There are two ways to donate if a match is found. About 80 percent of the time, a donor’s blood is removed from one arm with a needle, blood stem cells are filtered out and the remaining blood is pumped back into the other arm. In the other method, marrow cells are collected from a donor using a special syringe.

The first option can often take two days, while the second takes about one or two hours in outpatient surgery. While flu-like side effects can occur for about 48 hours after the first option, donors usually experience some pain, bruising and stiffness for up to two weeks after the second option, according to DKMS.

"I think most people when they find out someone has cancer, they feel helpless, but this could be an opportunity to save someone’s life," said Justin’s mother, Robin Wexler.

Justin’s not old enough to swab his own cheeks for the cause — donors have to be between the ages of 18 and 55 — but he said he is glad to be helping by spreading the word.

"Maybe someone will show up on Sunday, someone who’s never even thought about doing this before, and maybe that person will be a match; maybe they’ll save a life," he said. "Imagine that."

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Stamford seventh-grader hosting bone marrow donor drive Super Bowl Sunday

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