Boston.- The family of a New Hampshire baby is on a mission to find a bone marrow donor for their little boy and other sick children like him. Six-month old Giovanni Guglielmo is fighting for his life. He suffers from a rare immune deficiency and will most likely need a bone marrow transplant to save his life. Giovanni is now being treated at Children’s Hospital Boston while his parents, Michael Guglielmo and Christina Poulicakos, pray that a donor match is found.
“It’s terrible, you would gladly lay down your own life for your own child but you don’t have the opportunity to do that – we are doing everything I can,” said Michael Guglielmo, Giovanni’s father.
Little Giovanni’s family and friends are sponsoring a series of bone marrow drives over the next several weeks.
They’ve registered more than 1400 potential donors so far.
“We want everybody to come and and to to the registries because there are other children other Giovannis that need to be helped,” said Michael.
Lisa Brown has never met Giovanni Guglielmo. But the thought of what the infant’s family is going through drew Brown to Concord for a bone marrow drive in Giovanni’s name.
“I would hope if this ever happened to my family, people would come out for me,” said Brown, an engineer from Laconia who has two daughters, ages 18 and 22. “I e-mailed this event to everyone I know.”
Brown was one of roughly 75 people who stopped by the Friends of Forgotten Children building on Bog Road in hopes of helping the Guglielmo family find a matching marrow donor. Those who attended put their name on the national registry of bone marrow donors by giving a small blood sample. If their blood type matches someone waiting for a bone marrow transplant, including Giovanni, they will be called to donate.
“Being put on the bone marrow registry is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Carrie Chase, 34. “It’s an easy way to help people.”
Chase said she has been giving blood to the American Red Cross since she was 18. She said becoming a bone marrow donor seemed a logical next step to help out. Chase and a co-worker from a bank in Meredith read about the bone marrow drive in the newspaper and drove together to Concord. Other donors came from across central and southern New Hampshire, including Manchester, Derry, Hooksett, Nashua and the Lakes Region.
Giovanni Guglielmo was born in July and hospitalized two months later for a deficient immune system. Doctors have since been unable to diagnose his illness but believe the rejuvenating stem cells in bone marrow would jump-start his immune system again, said Michael Guglielmo, his father. Without it, Giovanni will most likely have less than a year to live, he said.
Guglielmo’s family has already held a half dozen drives in New Hampshire and Massachusetts this month, and they are planning more. They hope that by finding more people for the national donor registry, they will find a match for their son. So far, they’ve persuaded roughly 1,000 people to register. Their goal is 20,000.
“One in 20,000 is a match,” said Christina Poulicakos, Giovanni’s mother. “We want that one.”
Guglielmo and Poulicakos stood at the door, at 224 Bog Road and shook hands with people coming in to donate. They thanked people for traveling and distributed business cards with a photo of their wide-eyed child on one side and “I helped save Giovanni” in bold red letters on the other.
Poulicakos and Guglielmo have spent the past few months dividing their time between their home in Belmont, the Children’s Hospital in Boston – where their son is being treated – and media events to help raise money and awareness for their son. Seeing support from so many people they’ve never met before is helping them through the illness, Poulicakos said.
“It really restores our faith in humanity,” she said. “It’s great.”
The drive was run by DKMS Americas, a bone marrow donor recruitment agency based in Germany that holds drives all over the world. The Friends of Forgotten Children, a Concord non-profit group, donated its building and food for those who attended.
“Giovanni needed help, and that’s what we do,” said Holly Foote, a board member at Friends of Forgotten Children who heard about the Guglielmo family on the news and contacted them about pairing up for a donor drive.
Finding a match is not going to be easy. Roughly 35,000 people are waiting for a transplant in the United States, but only 3,000 to 4,000 of them will find a match, said Alina Suprunova, a donor recruitment specialist with DKMA Americas.
“Matching is very complicated because it’s like you’re looking for a genetic twin,” Suprunova said.
Those who are called to donate their marrow have two choices for how it is harvested, Suprunova said. Donors can opt to have their bone marrow extracted by a needle in their hip bone or they can have blood drawn and the stem cells will be strained out of the blood, she said.
If you need any information, contact the Caitlin Raymond International Registry at 1.800.726.2824 (ask for Greg) or log onto www.helpgiovanniguglielmo.org or www.savegiovanni.org
**** Combined news sources.