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A clarion call for Amy's Army

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Tomorrow is Sunday and, being a good Christian, I plan to be at Temple Emanuel on Bower Hill Road in Mt. Lebanon. An explanation is in order and a child's life is in the balance.

Amy Katz is 11 years old. Her mother is Lisa Katz. Many a morning I have bumped into Lisa -- by this I mean literally -- as I wandered bleary-eyed into the Coffee Tree on Beverly Road in search of a morning cup of salvation. The woman is bearing the hell of a grievously ill child on her shoulders and she has never failed to smile, never neglected to greet, and never overlooked the "Amy's Army" button for her coat lapel. Being a journalist, and consequently oblivious to everyday life, I finally noticed the thing last week.

"This is for my daughter," she said. "She needs a stem cell transplant."

"What blood type is she?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter," Lisa said. Once the stem cells are transplanted, Amy Katz will turn into the blood type of the donor. Talk about meeting someone halfway.

My wife had already heard about the case. She reminded me that I had, too.

"There have been fliers all up and down Beverly Road," she said. "Amy Katz."

Amy Katz. The kid had just made the cut for the travel soccer team when she became ill. That would be the sixth-grader Amy Katz. The kid who loves to play trumpet. Amy Katz -- she sounds like everybody's kid, but everybody's kid doesn't have Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.

Ordinarily, it's only found in adults. Fewer than 5 percent of the cases hit children. For children, a stem cell transplant is often the best cure, and time is running short.

They're still searching for a donor. Even though a donor can have any blood type, there are other factors that have to match Amy exactly.

How, I wondered, can there be a child with leukemia and nobody to match her tissue type? Her best bet would be someone who is a descendant of Eastern European Jews. Because of the madness of the preceding century, that group was all but eradicated.

The Katz family has to cast a wide net. We are raised in this world with the assurance that somewhere there's someone who fits our needs of the moment, but, after a search of the 8 million names on file in the donor index, nobody has the same tissue type as Amy. Not her father, who would doubtless give. Not her sisters, who would surely donate. Not even her mother, who would tackle an oncoming train if it will save her child.

But someone.

Maybe me. Perhaps you. We won't know without asking, and asking is what I am doing right now. I'm asking you to get in a car and go to Temple Emanuel at 1250 Bower Hill Road in Mt. Lebanon. The doors open at 10 a.m. and close at 4. I'm asking you to roll up a sleeve, give some blood and find out if you are the miracle Amy Katz needs to see the seventh grade, and the eighth, to become Bat Mitzvah in two years, rejoin the travel soccer team, play her trumpet in the school band, maybe get married and do something for your children, or grandchildren. Lisa Katz calls her support group Amy's Army, and it makes sense. It's going to take an army to find the right donor and when that donor is found, then the cure can be found.

I have never been the cure for anything, save occasional boredom. I'm hoping it's me. If not that, I'm hoping it's you. I'm hoping the words of the Talmud speak to everyone reading this:

"Whoever saves one life, saves the whole world."

We don't need a world smaller by a single Amy.

To be tested as a possible stem cell donor, come to Temple Emanuel, 1250 Bower Hill Road, Mt. Lebanon, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow . Insurance covers only part of the cost of testing and Amy's family has to pick up the rest. If you can't be tested, consider a donation to Amy's Army, c/o Kate Rosenthal, Treasurer, 1193 Lakemont Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15243.


Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.

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