Want to save a life? Gardens man needs Hispanic bone marrow donor

The dearth of Hispanic bone marrow donors has a Palm Beach Gardens man with a rare blood cancer in the unenviable position of begging for someone who can save his life.

Manny Valdes says if willing Hispanics donors could just get their mouths swabbed, then he can possibly find a bone marrow match.  The test is free for the potential donor.

Manny Valdes with his two children. Valdes is fighting a rare form of leukemia but is having trouble finding a Hispanic donor.

The 42-year-old  husband and father of two was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in February. It is a rare form of blood and bone marrow cancer.

Currently, in the second round of chemotherapy, Valdes is in need of a  bone marrow transplant, but so far no match has been found for him yet.  Valdes works as director Florida IT Operations at Minto Communities.

The Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a national non-profit organization based in Boca Raton, operates a public registry dedicated to curing blood cancer through marrow and stem cell donation. They are appealing nationwide to increase Hispanic representation in the donor pool.

The Palm Beach Post reported in April 2015 how minorities fighting leukemia and other cancers have an additional hurdle in finding an outside donor to save their lives. Nicole Rivera, a young Jupiter mother,  spoke to The Post about the dilemma Hispanics have in finding suitable donors for a bone marrow transplants.

The mother of two ended up losing her battle with cancer after having to wait to find a donor for her second transplant.

Before her death from leukemia in September 2016, Nicole Rivera got the word out of the need for Hispanic bone marrow donors.

And now Valdes is playing the same waiting game.

Gift of Life says bone marrow is inherited like eye or hair color which makes ethnic and racial diversity crucial to finding donor matches for a greater number of patients in need of marrow transplants.

Because of the under-representation, 55 percent of Hispanic cancer patients and 75 percent of multi-racial patients are never matched with donors who can save their lives.

All it takes to become a bone marrow donor is a simple check swab. Once the tissue is typed, volunteers will then be entered into a registry for a patient currently or in the future.

People can request their FREE swab kit to become a potential donor at https://www.giftoflife.org/register.

There is also a Facebook page for Valdes: https://www.facebook.com/MANNYVSTRONG/

Jupiter mother fought rare leukemia in public eye

Nicole Rivera, a young Jupiter mother, made the struggle with a rare form a leukemia a platform to help others battling the deadly blood cancer.

By going public, Rivera gave a face to the financial hardship the disease causes families and the struggle minorities face to find suitable donors for a bone marrow transplants.

Rivera lost her own battle Saturday with the disease after a bone marrow transplant on Aug. 23 from her mother failed because it wasn’t a perfect match.

She was 28 and leaves behind her two sons, Liam, 4, and Logan, 2.

“She fought a hard battle for 10 years ,” her mother, Wanda Laracuente, said on Monday. “Ten years is long time to fight this disease, but she left me a piece of her. I have her boys, her two precious miracles.”

Nicole Rivera, kisses her son Logan Nguyen, at their home in Jupiter. Rivera died on Saturday after a very public fight with leukemia. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

Barbara Abernathy, the CEO of Pediatric Oncology Support Team (POST) on the campus of St. Mary’s Medical Center, called Rivera a “brave ambassador” who showed keen interest in others battling with leukemia.

“By telling Nicole’s story, we were able to get that message out there about the impact this disease has on the family, both financially and emotionally,” she said.

In April 2015, as Rivera struggled to find a donor, she urged Hispanics to get tested.  Hispanics make up just 10 percent of the U.S. bone marrow donor list, compared to 61 percent of caucasian donors.

“They are afraid to get tested or they don’t have the knowledge that Hispanics donors are rare or that Hispanics do get sick like this,” she said.

Laracuente said that increasing bone marrow donors among Hispanics is difficult because of socioeconomic reasons. “A lot of them are misinformed, thinking if they are here illegally and joining the donor registry that is going to put them at risk at being deported,” she said.

POST will hold a bone marrow donor drive in Rivera’s name on Oct. 1 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. All is needed is a cheek swab to join the donor list. A blood test is not necessary.

Rivera came to the public eye in 2007 when The Palm Beach Post featured her in its “Season to Share” annual holiday campaign, which rallies assistance for struggling individuals and families.

When she was a teenager, Rivera was diagnosed with the Philadelphia chromosone associated with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a difficult  form of the disease to disease

Nicole Rivera fought back leukemia when she was a teenager, but the lack of a suitable donor ended up costing her life.

Still, she beat back the cancer through chemotherapy and proved predictions wrong by giving birth to her two boys.

Her family, though, knew even after she was cancer free for five years, that without a full bone marrow transplant, the disease could always return for Rivera.

And it did in early 2015. At first her mother didn’t believe her daughter’s complaints of lethargy until blood tests confirmed that indeed the leukemia was back.

“I don’t know how many times a person has to be tested to prove that they should be here,” Laracuente said at the time.

“I don’t know how I’m going to help her fight. I told her, ‘You have two boys you have to fight for. You have to come back to them.’

Her mother did help her fight in the most personal way possible. After a public outreach to find a suitable donor for Rivera failed, it was Laracuente in August who became a donor but she was only a half-match.

“Because she was Hispanic she was not able to find a perfect match,” Abernathy said.

And the toll of the disease continues. Rivera’s family is struggling to bury her. “Her family is financially depleted from caring for her,” Abernathy said. “They don’t have the money for a proper service.”

She said people who want to donate to offset funeral costs can contact POST,  at 561-882-6336.

Services are set at 6 p.m. on Saturday Aycock-Riverside Funeral and Cremation Center in Jupiter.

Besides her children and mother, Rivera is survived by her grandmother Carmen Laracuente, five brothers and her longtime boyfriend and father of  her children, Ha Nguyen.

To join the national bone marrow donor register contact bethematch.org.