After learning three years ago about the plight of a sick child whom she had never met, Colleen Williams of Clifton Park filled out paperwork and had a simple swab test done on the inside of her cheek for a DNA sample to test whether her bone marrow was a match with the child’s.
It also put her on the National Marrow Donor Program Registry.
Now, Williams is asking people around the Capital Region to take the same step.
This time, it’s to help her son’s best friend, Nick Cammarata, 12, find a bone marrow donor for a transplant that could be the best chance to beat his T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Williams and other local residents will participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night Walk” to raise money for cancer research. The fundraiser will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, at The Crossings Park, Albany-Shaker Road, Colonie. Also that night, Nick’s family and friends will be present to help people complete the forms and take the swab test to join the registry.
“We’re hoping people will come support the event, but also take the few minutes needed to register,” Williams said. “People don’t know how simple it is; they think they have to have blood drawn just to be listed. That’s so far from the truth. There’s nothing invasive involved in being registered.”
Cammarata, who is in eighth grade at Gowana Middle School in the Shenendehowa Central School District, was diagnosed on July 4 and has been undergoing chemotherapy since that time. But his illness is proving to be stubborn, and it did not go into remission after the first month of treatment so a bone marrow transplant is necessary.
“We know that remission isn’t far away, but he needs a transplant to have the best quality of life,” Janine Cammarata, Nick’s mother, said. “Anyone who knows Nick has been positively affected by his infectious smile and enthusiasm. He is ready to fight to be healed, but he needs help.”
Williams said Nick is as close to another son as she could ever find.
“I’ve known Nick since he was 5, and he’s just a phenomenal kid,” Williams said. “He’s always upbeat, very funny, and, overall, he’s handling this like a trouper . He makes his doctors laugh.”
An avid swimmer, Nick is a member of the Southern Saratoga YMCA Barracuda team and the Knolls Summer Swim team in Clifton Park. Although he wasn’t able to participate in the swim teams this summer, he did attend a few days of school in September before an infection sent him back to Albany Medical Center, where he has been since last week. The infection set in because of Nick’s fragile immune system caused by the chemotherapy.
In the meantime, Nick is enjoying his other hobbies, such as reading and playing video games with his younger brother, Stephen, 11, and other friends.
“Every time we go down to visit him in the hospital, the kids are playing video games, and, it’s like, ‘they don’t even need us here,’ ” Williams said.
According to the National Marrow Donor Program Registry Web site, on any given day, more than 6,000 men, women and children search the registry for a matching bone marrow donor. People looking for a match may have leukemia, lymphoma or other life-threatening diseases that can be treated by a bone marrow transplant.
Even with millions of potential donors on the registry, there are thousands of people who are unable to find a match. Donors with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds are especially needed because tissue types are inherited, and patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity.
There are some costs associated with processing the DNA samples taken to join the registry. Williams and other local organizers are seeking donations of money, with a goal of raising $2,500 to help defray those costs. While the cost for processing samples is usually about $50, area businesses and other sponsors are kicking in money to get the cost down to $25. Once the fundraising goal is reached, 100 new donors can be processed and added to the registry free of charge.
“There’s a great possibility someone out there could be a match for Nick, and we’ll do anything we can to make that happen,” Williams said.
For information on marrow donations, go to the Web site at www.marrow.org.
For information on the Sept. 26 event, contact Colleen Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org., or go to Nick Cammarata’s Web site, www.highlandpub.com/NickCammarataBoneMarrowDrive.htm.