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Rod Carew’s Daughter Dies; Leukemia Fight Spurred Marrow Donations

April 17, 1996

ORANGE, Calif. (AP) _ Michelle Carew, 18, fought off leukemia for seven months, cracking jokes until it took her voice. She died Wednesday with family and friends at her hospital bedside.

``We told her that we love her, that we’re all here,″ said her father Rod Carew. ``And I just told her to have a safe journey.″

The Hall of Famer with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels had put together a drive to find a donor with compatible bone marrow. The effort drew more than 70,000 responses, but none matched Michelle’s.

``The percentages weren’t in her favor as far as finding a match,″ Carew said in the lobby of Children’s Hospital of Orange County. ``She just ran out of time. ... She just lost the battle.″

Michelle’s plight brought home the problems facing people with African ancestry and other non-whites who need transplants. A preponderance of marrow donors are people with European backgrounds, meaning others face long odds of finding compatible tissue.

Michelle’s parents and two sisters were incompatible. Carew has African, West Indian and Panamanian ancestry, while her mother has Russian Jewish forebears.

Maybe some of the 70,000 respondents can save other lives, Carew said.

The hospital received thousands of calls and letters. Many promised to be tested as donors, some sent gifts. One woman confessed she had trouble accepting interracial marriages, but ``your family just taught me that skin color is so insignificant!″

Michelle was diagnosed in September 1995 with non-lymphocytic leukemia. On March 22, Dr. Mitchell Cairo tried a relatively rare operation, a transplant of umbilical cord blood in an effort to rebuild Michelle’s immune system.

``We really didn’t have enough time to see the fruits of that transplant,″ said Cairo, director of blood and bone marrow transplants at the hospital. Her treatment, including chemotherapy, caused complications Michelle couldn’t handle, he said.

She died of cardiac and respiratory failure at 6:28 a.m., the hospital said. Since the March 22 operation, she had been kept in a sterile room, family and other visitors sealed off by a window.

``When they saw that the end was nearing, they opened the room so she could be hugged by her family and friends,″ said hospital spokesman Orman Day.

The family thought Michelle was going to die in December.

``Michelle has had many peaks and valleys, and because of those valleys many people here consider her a miracle,″ Day said.

For seven months, the Carews had stayed in a spare hospital room or in a motor home in a rear parking lot.

Angels manager Marcel Lachemann, general manager Bill Bavasi and others in the organization supported Carew during the ordeal, and he called them ``my second family.″ Carew, the Angels batting coach, has been on leave.

``She kept our spirits up by telling jokes,″ Carew said. ``We would walk in the room and she would always say something funny to make sure we were smiling.″

Carew, red-eyed, mustered a smile at the recollection.

``She became more famous than her dad, and we talked about that a lot,″ he said at a news conference. ``When this started she just wanted me to do not only for her but for the other kids.″

A private memorial service was scheduled Friday in Santa Ana. The funeral was planned for Sunday at 11 a.m. at Temple B’nai Emet in Minneapolis, with burial at United Hebrew Brotherhood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

___

Instead of flowers, the family requested contributions to the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Box 1076, Orange, CA 92668-0076.

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