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South Neighborhoods

Donors line up to be tested for 'Amy's Army'

Monday, March 01, 2004

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The mood was decidedly upbeat, though the underlying reason for the gathering was deadly serious.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Steve Happe, of Bethel Park, reacts as August Chance, right, draws his blood in an effort to find a stem cell match for 11-year-old Amy Katz, who suffers from Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.
For more information, visit http://www.amysarmy.org/ or call the toll-free number 877-243-4269.

Click photo for larger image.

More than a thousand people turned out at a South Hills synagogue yesterday. Among them were parents pushing babies and toddlers in strollers, and middle school girls sporting 5-foot fringed scarves in the blue-and-gold colors of the Mt. Lebanon sports teams. Children of all ages romped while their parents mixed and mingled with old friends and made new friends.

Business was brisk at tables selling baked goods, T-shirts, caps and scarves, but the main event involved rolling up sleeves and submitting to needle jabs for blood tests.

The big crowd was at Temple Emanuel to take part in the "Amy's Army" campaign to find a stem cell donor for 11-year-old Amy Katz.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed sixth-grade student at Jefferson Middle School has chronic myelogenous leukemia. A stem cell transplant is probably her best shot for a cure.

Organizers said 1,657 people donated blood samples during the six-hour donor drive yesterday, which Post-Gazette columnist Dennis Roddy wrote about Saturday ("A clarion call for Amy's Army," Feb. 28. 2004). Cars were parked on both sides of heavily traveled Bower Hill Road for as far as the eye could see, because the synagogue parking lot was filled to overflowing.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Amy Katz, 11, talks with her mother during yesterday's donor drive at Temple Emanuel in Mt. Lebanon.
Click photo for larger image.

In six to eight weeks, the Katz family will learn whether any of those volunteers are a match for a transplant for Amy or for any other patients on the registry waiting list.

Lisa Katz and her husband, Mike, are not a match for Amy. Neither are sisters Jenny, 13, or Katie, 8. Neither are the 4 million volunteer donors listed on the National Marrow Donor Program registry.

"I've never even given blood before, but I did it for Amy" Terry Spernak, of Mt. Lebanon, said as she introduced herself to Lisa Katz.

Another woman stopped by to say: "I almost fainted, but I gave blood to help Amy."

"It's been like this all day," Katz said, noting that her family is overwhelmed by the response. "We could not be more pleased with the way this community has come together. If there was one good thing that could come out of all of this, it is finding out how many good people there are in the world."

Amy's cancer was diagnosed about six months ago, just after she was picked for a travel soccer team.

This type of leukemia rarely afflicts children. Amy has been participating in an experimental form of chemotherapy, and is doing well, for now, but still needs a transplant.

To everyone who asked Lisa Katz how she is doing, she replied:

"Amy is responding well to chemo right now. When she is doing well, I am doing well."

Amy mixed and mingled with her sisters and friends yesterday. She looks as pretty as she always has, and her blond hair has not fallen out.

"She takes pills every night, at home," Lisa Katz explained to those who asked how Amy was doing. "The pills are hard on her stomach and cause some joint pain and fatigue.

"For the past six months, Amy's been able to go to school, as usual, but she really hasn't had the energy for soccer or anything else. However, in the last 2 1/2 weeks she has been getting her strength back. She's been able to participate in some soccer games in the last two weeks. Life has been more normal for her."

Lisa Katz has very deep roots in the Mt. Lebanon community, the place where she grew up and is now raising her family. Yesterday, she greeted longtime friends as well as "people I haven't seen in 20 years -- and people we've never met."

Many groups and individuals have also been helping to raise funds to cover the costs of testing donors, for all of those costs are not covered by insurance. Yesterday about $15,000 more was raised, according to organizer Andrea Fitting.

Linda Bennett, of Upper St. Clair, and Tracy Palmieri, of Mt. Lebanon, have made and sold nearly 400 fringed felt scarves at $15 each. More than 60 quickly sold out yesterday, despite the spring-like temperatures.

Mt. Lebanon High School students collected more than $7,500 in silver coins, which they have donated to Amy.

Those interested in donating a blood sample can do so through other blood drives run by the Central Blood Bank. Call the blood bank at 800-310-9551 to make an appointment or to get a date and time for another blood drive. Use Amy's blood bank tracking number -- z0020553 --- when doing the paper work. This would not take any blood any from other recipients, as extra blood would be drawn for the test.

For more information, visit http://www.amysarmy.org/ or call the toll-free number 877-243-4269.


(Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.)

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