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Donor Drive Matched 10 - But Not Leukemia Victim

July 23, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Leukemia victim Allison Atlas’ search for a perfectly matched bone marrow donor inspired 50,000 people in the United States and Israel to roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

The contributions of the Atlases and other families following their lead have nearly tripled the number of potential donors in the National Marrow Donor Program.

And thanks to the Atlas family’s search, 10 patients have found compatible donors since November, said Simon Atlas, a cousin of Allison’s father.

But not Miss Atlas. In about 10 days, she’ll get an imperfectly matched transplant from her mother - before time runs out.

Public awareness about transplants has burgeoned during the past eight months - largely because of patients like Miss Atlas. Dozens of grassroots groups around the nation have emulated the campaign of her supporters, Friends of Allison. They implore neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, fellow worshipers and others to take blood tests and give money: if the particular patient doesn’t find a match, they reason, maybe someone else will.

Since November, Friends of Allison has obtained blood samples from 49,400 volunteers in the United States, plus 600 in Israel because of Allison’s Jewish, Eastern European genetic background. The group elicited $3 million in donations, including a six-figure check from Dustin Hoffman, to pay for lab work on those samples.

The volunteers’ tissue types were then listed with the National Marrow Donor Program and a related international registry.

When the Atlases began their search, the national registry had gathered 57,000 donors in three years. Now, because of the Atlases and other families’ efforts, it has more than 150,000 names.

Miss Atlas is one of about 10,000 Americans a year who search for a potentially life-saving marrow match from an unrelated donor.

The odds of finding a match are at least 20,000-to-1.

Last week, Miss Atlas, 20, told Washington, D.C., station WUSA-TV that her mother will donate the marrow.

She will be admitted to the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, probably at the end of the week, to begin weeklong preparations for the transplant, Simon Atlas said Monday.

Her mother ″has been a fallback all along. She’s not a perfect match, obviously, or we would have used her″ at the outset, he said.

Miss Atlas, who lives in Bethesda, Md., and was a student at New York University until she became ill, decided she should receive some of her mother’s marrow while she is still strong enough for a transplant.

″Ultimately, my condition is progressively getting worse and if I don’t have the transplant soon and I get a bad infection, I won’t be able to have a transplant,″ she told WUSA.

Simon Atlas said Allison’s remarks to WUSA will be her last public comments while awaiting transplant.

Arline Atlas’ bone marrow matches four out of six antigens, or cell identifiers, in her daughter’s marrow. With Miss Atlas’ type of leukemia, doctors say there is a 60 percent survival rate with a transplant - if there’s a six-antigen match. Without a transplant, it is 100 percent fatal.

First, Miss Atlas will receive chemotherapy and radiation to destroy her diseased marrow, followed about a week later by the transplant.

Two to three weeks after the transplant, doctors watch for an increase in white cells, a sign that the transplant has taken, said Simon Atlas.

″It’s a risky procedure; hopefully, it’s going to work,″ he said, adding that Miss Atlas remained optimistic.

″I’m not sure, if it doesn’t work, what the options are,″ he said.

Simon Atlas said four patients have undergone transplants, and about six others are scheduled, because of unrelated donor matches found through Friends of Allison.

It was not immediately clear how Allison’s transplant would affect the future of the donor drive. Simon Atlas said a group of possible donors who gave blood samples Thursday would probably be the last until the transplant.

″If we find (a perfect match) up to moment of transplant, we would use it,″ he said.

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