Hoping for Yuletide miracle: Staten Islanders join bone-marrow drive

By Frank Donnelly Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Tales of Yuletide miracles abound on the silver screen and TV this time of year.

But in Grant City on Saturday, the families of a sick little boy and a firefighter who need bone marrow transplants to live hoped for the real thing.

And scores of Staten Islanders tried to make it happen, despite the whirling snow, by registering at a bone-marrow donor drive to benefit 2-year-old Owen Hogan and Firefighter Jimmy Martinez, 54.

“We’re in absolute awe,” said Martinez’s son, Jimmy Martinez Jr., a Great Kills resident and firefighter himself, assigned to Ladder Co. 113 in Brooklyn.

The seven-hour event, which began 9 a.m. was held at the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Hurricane Relief Center in conjunction with Delete Blood Cancer.

As of early Saturday afternoon, more than 120 potential donors had registered, said Sean Hynes, donor recruitment coordinator for Delete Blood [Cancer] Center. Hynes said he anticipated a total of 300 registrants by the time the event concluded.

“It’s incredible to see the amount of people walking through here, especially this time of year on a snowy day to try to save a life,” said Frank Siller, head of the Siller Foundation. “It’s the story of Staten Island.”

The process was simple.

Potential donors had the inside of their mouths swapped and completed a form.

The swabs will be incorporated into a data base to determine if they match Owen, the elder Martinez, or any of the 10,000 people in America needing a bone-marrow transplant, said Hynes.

Hynes said it’s unlikely that anyone who registered Saturday would match Owen or Martinez, but even if they don’t, there’s a chance they could match someone in the data base.

The younger Martinez said his father, an Eltingville resident and FDNY veteran of more than 20 years, was diagnosed in June with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

“We’re at the stage where we need a stem-cell transplant,” he said, noting that five rounds of chemotherapy treatment haven’t helped his dad.

Owen’s father, Tim Hogan, a firefighter, told the Advance earlier this week his son began developing bruises. A doctor’s visit revealed he has a severe aplastic anemia.

“As of now, we know that there is no available match for Owen, but remain hopeful that in spreading the word the registry will continue to grow and a match for Owen will be found,” said Tim Hogan.

Oakwood resident Natalie Golubchik, 37, fought back tears after providing a swab.

“I always wanted to do it,” said Ms. Golubchik, who brought her little daughter Sasha, 7, along hoping to make an impression on her.

The event triggered some major milestones for countrywide and worldwide bone-marrow donation efforts.

With her swab, Sarah Siller, Stephen Siller’s widow, became the 500,000th registered American donor, said Hynes.

Zane Staab, 21, became the 4 millionth donor worldwide.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Staab, an Oklahoman, working on Staten Island with Americorps as part of the post-Hurricane Sandy rebuilding effort. “I want to help somebody who needed a transplant.”

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said the turnout was impressive.

“People here are going to save lives somewhere along the line,” said Cassano, a Huguenot resident. “It still amazes me how the members of this department and their friends rally around each other. I’m really proud.”

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