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On any given day, 3,000 people are looking for strangers who could save their lives.

They are patients with leukemia, lymphomas and one of 60-some other life-threatening diseases that can be treated with bone marrow transplants. They have not been able to find donor matches in their families and are hoping to find a match among the people in the National Marrow Donor Program Registry.

If you are a Caucasian person, you have an 88 percent chance of finding at least one match. The chances are lower if you are American Indian, said Eileen Damone, who runs the Montana Marrow Program of the Inland Northwest Blood Center. You might run an 80 percent chance of a match.

"It has improved greatly recently," she said. "But it's still not equal."

For other minorities, the odds are even lower.

The reason is a lack of donors, people who are willing to have their blood tested and typed and their names listed in the national registry.

Damone, who is also the special recruitment representative for the program, works steadily at improving the odds. Out of her Lewistown office, she travels regularly to reservations in Montana looking for American Indian donors. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Damone will hold a marrow drive during the "Confluence of Cultures" conference at the University of Montana.

"It's sponsored by and attracting many Native American people," she said. "So we think we have an excellent audience to present the need."

Damone is hoping to trade on the recent attention drawn by University of Montana graduate Patrick Calf Looking. On commencement weekend, Calf Looking met the woman who saved him from death from leukemia by donating stem cells to him in 2000. He was the subject of a Missoulian story.

Transplants of bone marrow, found inside the bones, are used against life-threatening blood diseases. Marrow produces the body's blood components - white and red blood cells and platelets - that are the main agents of the body's immune system. Any disease that attacks the marrow, causing it to stop producing the correct amounts of the various blood cells, threatens the body's ability to defend itself. New marrow, drawn from the hip bone of the donor with a long needle, gives the body a second chance.

To find marrow donor matches, medical science determines tissue types by looking at six markers that are among hundreds of codes in human blood cells. More than 19,000 combinations are known. The chances are one in four that a match will be found in a family member. Beyond that, it's difficult to match.

The more potential donors in the registry, the greater the chance for a match.

"Patrick is a success story," Damone said. "But I know of four or five Native American people we couldn't find matches for. There's 20 percent we didn't find matches for. And several of those were children."

Reporter Ginny Merriam can be reached at 523-5251 or at gmerriam@missoulian.com.

If you're interested

The Montana Marrow Program will hold a bone marrow donor drive Wednesday through Friday at the University Center at the University of Montana, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Volunteers must be 18 to 60 years old, in good health and not excessively overweight. Caucasian donors will be asked to donate $25 toward the testing costs. Donors with any percentage of minority background will be tested at no cost; minority donors are needed and encouraged to register. The test is a simple blood draw. The Montana Marrow Program is part of the Inland Northwest Blood Center's Marrow Program. Potential donors become part of the National Marrow Donor Program Registry. For information or to preregister, call Eileen Damone at the Montana Marrow Program in Lewistown, toll-free at

1-888-748-3494.

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