Guam may hold
miracle for girl

Doctors go to the island
in search of a bone marrow
match for a sick 5-year-old

By Helen Altonn

Hawaii's Bone Marrow Registry team will leave Tuesday for Guam to try to save the life of a 5-year-old girl with cancer.

They will conduct the island's first bone marrow drive in hopes of finding a match for Justice Josephine Taitague, of Merizo, Guam.

She is in stage four with T-cell lymphoma, said her doctor, Thomas Shieh, "in search for a miracle" for the child.

He appealed for assistance in a letter to Dr. Randal Wada, medical director, and Roy Yonashiro, donor recruitment coordinator, at the St. Francis Medical Center Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry.

He wrote that Justice is urgently in need of a bone marrow transplant because the disease has spread to her abdomen, to her spinal fluid and bone.

"She is failing chemotherapy and will be undergoing radiation treatment to her head and spine."

Justice is part Chamorro and part Filipino and few Pacific Islanders make up the National Bone Marrow Registry, Shieh said. "The best place to find a match is right here on Guam, where she was born."

Yonashiro said the girl is at Loma Linda Hospital in California "but everyone in Guam knows her and wants to know how they can sign up (for the registry)."

Yonashiro said he and Wada talked to R.D. Brown, director of donor services for the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis, Minn., who "made necessary phone calls to higher ups...

"They gave us their blessing and they're going to fund the drive ... because this is a special case."

Continental Airlines also is waiving air fare for the staff and supplies, Yonashiro said. He and two other staff members are going with Wada.

"It seems like it's going to be a fairly large-scale event," Wada said. Talking to Dr. Shieh, he said, "I really get the sense that although Guam was devastated recently by Super Typhoon Pongsona that they're focusing on this as something really positive that they can all be involved in."

The Hawaii team is taking enough equipment to register "potentially a few thousand" potential donors for Justice, Wada said.

"Easily, her best chance of survival is to have a transplant. I feel fairly certain if we're not able to match her, some other child or another adult is going to benefit from this because of the ethnic range of people who live on Guam."

Wada said it's "astounding" that Shieh and the people on Guam "have been able to marshal this incredible effort" in a very short time. "It's something they and all of us can feel real good about."

The drive will be held next weekend in a central shopping mall, he said.

He said Guam Gov. Felix Comacho will be the first to be tested at an inaugural celebration Friday night (Thursday night in Hawaii) for Shieh as incoming president of the Guam Medical Society.

Shieh is an OB/GYN from Hawaii and a family friend, Yonashiro said.

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