Bone Marrow Donor Travels Across Country to Meet 8-Year-Old Recipient

May 10, 2019 | by Letisia Marquez

Rosendo full BMT Reunion 2019 | City of Hope Bone marrow donor Rosendo Moreno with his son Rosendo IV.
 
Rosendo Moreno III met his Zuleika, the young girl who received his bone marrow donation, today at City of Hope’s Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion. Here is the story about what motivated him to become a donor.
 
It only took a television commercial for Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow registry, for Rosendo Moreno III to contact the organization and request a swab kit.
 
“I remember seeing a young boy with cancer who needed a bone marrow donor in the commercial,” said Moreno, a father and corrections officer in Harvard, Illinois. “I thought to myself, ‘Man, if my son had problems like that, I’d sure like to have somebody be the match.'”
 
The kit came a few days later. Moreno swabbed his cheek and sent the sample back to Be The Match.
 
Seven years passed before Moreno heard from Be The Match again. He received a call from a Be The Match representative letting him know that a 5-year-old girl had cancer and needed his bone marrow. She asked if he would be willing to donate.
 
“Absolutely! Let’s do it,” Moreno responded.
 
A few weeks later, Moreno received anesthesia and had three needles inserted into his lower back to remove bone marrow. (Note: The removal process can be different for each donor. Stem cells can also be taken via the donor’s blood using a catheter inserted in his or her arm.)
 
“People said it was gonna be painful, but it wasn’t,” Moreno said. “I was more excited than nervous. I just wanted to get it done.”

A Long Journey

The bone marrow was then flown nearly 1,700 miles to City of Hope, where Zuleika Flores and her family anxiously awaited it. Flores, who was 5 at the time, had a rare and aggressive type of leukemia known as Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She had already had chemotherapy, but it hadn’t put her into remission. Zuleika needed a bone marrow transplant to survive. 
 
Flores received Moreno’s bone marrow on July 22, 2016.
 
Moreno requested updates from Be The Match on Zuleika’s status. They would provide him with brief updates that lifted his spirits: “She’s doing well,” “She’s in recovery.”
 
Once a year has passed since a patient has received a bone marrow transplant, donors can request contact information for the patient. Moreno reached out after a year. He has texted with Zuleika’s father but has not actually spoken to the family.
 
“[Juan Carlos] always says he can never thank me enough,” Moreno said. “I’m just glad she’s doing good.”
 
“It’s time to live her life and be a normal little girl,” he added.
 
As for donating bone marrow again, Moreno, who has two sons, Rosendo “A.J.” IV, 20, and Colton, 6, said he wouldn’t hesitate.
 
“I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
 
Jill Kendall, director of City of Hope Be The Match, said more donors are needed to join its registry, particularly donors who are African American, Asian Pacific Islander, Latino and Native American.
 
“Patients are most likely to match with someone who shares their ethnic background,” Kendall said. “African Americans, blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are underrepresented on Be The Match, making it much more difficult for patients of these ethnic backgrounds to find a donor. It's urgent that we add more people of these underrepresented ethnic backgrounds to save more lives."
 
If you are between the ages of 18 and 44 and in good health, register here. After completing the online registration, a swab testing kit will be mailed to your home.
 
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