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Monday, September 20, 2004
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Back to headlines
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Amy's Army seeks donors


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Keith Hodan/Tribune-Review

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By Vince Guerrieri
Monday, September 6, 2004

Amy Katz will start seventh grade Tuesday at Jefferson Middle School in Mt. Lebanon.

She plays soccer and does the things 12-year-old girls do.

And a year after being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, she is still waiting for a bone marrow transplant needed to vanquish the disease.

"We're still searching for the donor," said Amy's mother, Lisa Katz.

Amy was diagnosed after knee soreness that wouldn't go away. She is on a drug regimen that has beaten back the disease, but the only known cure is a transplant.

Although previous searches have focused around the Mt. Lebanon area and the Katzes' Jewish faith community, it's now taking on a regional, if not national scope.

Next month, there will be a marrow drive by Amy's Army at the U.S. Steel Building on Grant Street, Downtown. Gift of Life, a registry for potential bone marrow donors of Jewish descent, will also have bone marrow drives in the Philadelphia area, North Carolina and suburban Washington, D.C., over the next two months.

Lisa Katz said that racial or ethnic similarities can make matches more likely.

When Amy was diagnosed, her sisters -- younger Katie and older Jenny -- were tested as potential donors. They matched each other, but not Amy.

No one in Amy's family matched Amy's tissue type.

The drives try to find a match for Amy, but also register potential donors for other people who might need marrow transplants.

The tests are simple -- a pinprick for a drop of blood, said Charles Ferrara, of Fox Chapel, managing partner for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. In fact, he described donating bone marrow as a simple procedure involving local anesthetic and a needle inserted into one's hipbone to remove some marrow.

Ferrara used to work with Amy's father, Michael, and heard about Amy's plight.

"The minute you start talking about a kid in trouble, everyone says, 'Well, what can we do?'"

Ferrara hopes to see 3,000 people at the drive, tentatively scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 20.

There are more than 12,000 people who work at the U.S. Steel Building, he said. "We'll probably have contests throughout the building."

Gift of Life will hold the marrow drives in Cherry Hill, N.J., Rockville, Md., and Cary, N.C. Although not associated with Amy's Army, they are fighting for the same cause.

"Amy has sort of become their poster child," Lisa Katz said.

In two marrow drives this year for Amy's Army, 13 preliminary matches for other cases were found. Since then, six have been disqualified for one reason or another, Lisa Katz said.

She's glad some good has come of this -- even if Amy's not the beneficiary.

"Whether it's my child or someone else's, it's an amazing feeling," she said.

Vince Guerrieri can be reached at vguerrieri@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5607.

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