One little boy raises the consciousness of a community

Tuesday night I left my daughter doing homework and slipped down to City Hall, expecting to be one of a handful of people prepared to register as a bone marrow donor. My interest was sparked by the enthusiasm of Vicki Southon, a local fundraising business owner who came in contact with the bone marrow movement when she made a sales call to Goodfellow School in Stroud. She set aside her fundraising sales opportunity and became involved in a school community’s union in an effort to help a grade three student at Goodfellow, eight year old Buddy McGrath.

The Goodfellow School Council, chaired by parent Lynnette Barnes, had helped to mobilize Goodfellow families to commit to participating in the Unrelated Bone Marrow Registry, in an attempt to help find a donor for one of their own.

On Tuesday night, the Goodfellow folks were joined by many more in Barrie as the council chambers swelled to hold 550 people, with dozens more standing outside unable to squeeze in. I was one of those people. People came because Buddy McGrath’s story of suffering from leukemia and needing a bone marrow donor had touched their hearts and motivated them to come out and get involved.

Buddy was not at City Hall in person on Tuesday; his immune system is too weak to permit him to be among crowds. His spirit was certainly present, though, and it was clear that children and adults were there to support their fellow student.

Volunteers had set up registry locations and MDS Labs had set aside 150 appointments for people who heard the 90 minute presentation and decided to go ahead with the procedure. While not painful, registry does require a time commitment for blood tests and the initial testing (part of several phases) has an expensive price tag. It’s important that those who register are prepared to keep their commitment, so precious registry dollars go to the best possible use.

People heard all that, and at the end of the presentation, the 150 MDS appointments were grabbed up in minutes.

Volunteers Kate Henning and Caroline Garvey represent the Unrelated Bone Marrow Registry. Barrie residents, they volunteer for the local committee and they say the Unrelated Bone Marrow Registry will let the 400 people who didn’t get an appointment know of either their individual appointments, or the date of a mass “blood draw” which will probably occur at a Blood Donor Clinic.

Organizers were overwhelmed at Tuesday night’s response. They plan a second information night for those interested in being part of the international registry. Lynnette Barnes explained how few people register for the unrelated bone marrow service. “I’m so grateful to the Goodfellow Community for their support,” she said after. “Of course people were doing this for Buddy, but other kids will benefit as well. The people who didn’t get into the council chambers can register through Goodfellow School (436-3600) or by calling MP Joe Tascona’s office (737-4242). People will be contacted personally for the next Information night.

As Lynnette reflected on the “success” of the meeting, she was generous in her praise. “This community never ceases to amaze me… we put out the call and everyone responds. We hear about registries in cities that just don’t work. In this area, it works. One woman brought a bear for Buddy; each person there had their own story that brought them out.”