Ben Hill UMC serves as rallying point for potential marrow donors


When Rebecca Long heard that one of her close college friends had been diagnosed with leukemia, she immediately wanted to know how she could help. Long, the daughter of the Rev. Teresa Angle-Young, met Martin Townsend when the two were students at the University of Alabama. Long has since transferred to Georgia State.
“He was one of my best friends at Alabama,” Long said. “I know he felt powerless and upset when he heard the diagnosis. Friends quickly began coming together to support him.”
Townsend, 20, was told that his best hope for a cure is a bone marrow transplant. The problem is that it is often difficult to find a donor. No one in Townsend’s family was a suitable match, so he must rely on Be The Match donor registry. Because tissue-type is hereditary, the chances are that Townsend’s best hope is with someone from his racial or ethnic background.
The challenge can be particularly difficult for African-Americans due to a low percentage of blacks who have been screened as potential donors. Blacks and African Americans make up only eight percent of the marrow donor registry.
So Long got busy making phone calls, sending emails and social networking to plan a special event to help locate a potential donor.
“I am very proud of all the work Rebecca did,” said Angle-Young, who serves as pastor of Sacred Tapestry in the Atlanta Marietta District. “She was really determined to help her friend rather than helplessly stand by.”
But it was clearly a team effort.
Angle-Young contacted the Rev. Michael Stinson at Ben Hill UMC to see if the church would be willing to host a marrow screening event.
“We were glad to help out,” Stinson said. “The statistics are alarming. Only about 17 percent of blacks needing marrow transplants ever receive one. We did a similar screening event about two years ago and we figured it was about time to do another. We know the technology exists to save lives. As the Body of Christ we need to help all the people we can. ”
The event was a big success. Nearly 150 people gathered at Ben Hill on Sunday, March 4, to be screened and have their names added to the registry. In addition to the volunteers from Ben Hill, 22 people from Sacred Tapestry were on hand to help as well as jazz vocalist Francine Reed, who sang at the event, and Sacred Tapestry worship leader, Jez Graham, who played keyboards and Chuck Bithorn, on congas.
Rod Gunn, of the Be the Match national marrow donor program, coordinated the effort.
“The event at Ben Hill was very successful,” Gunn said. “Education is an important part of this. It is a very simple process for people to join the registry. You fill out a donor card and we do a simple cheek swab. There is no blood or pain involved.”
“I know Martin was really grateful for the big turnout,” Rebecca Long said. “It was a great encouragement to all of us.