Undergrad in Need of Bone Marrow

Leukemia sufferer’s biracial background complicates search for marrow match

CORRECTIONS APPENDED

Samuel R. Cross ’07 urgently needs a bone marrow transplant, and fellow students, House masters, and his fencing coach are now trying to find a donor.

Cross, co-captain of the varsity men’s fencing team, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a rare, fast-growing, and highly malignant form of the disease in which an individual’s bone marrow produces cells that fail to develop into normal red or white blood cells. Cross has already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy but still needs a bone marrow transplant, according to Cross’ teammates and friends.

“Time is of essence,” Cross’ mother Elizabeth K. Cross wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson last month.

According to e-mails sent over House lists about Cross, there are no more than 10 possible matches for the 21-year-old in the world bone marrow registry, and whether those donors would fully match Cross or be willing to donate is uncertain. Because bone marrow type is likely to be shared within populations, Cross, of Korean and Western European descent, is most likely to find a match among Asian and European donors.

“It’s very important for biracial individuals to come forward,” Harvard fencing head coach Peter Brand said last night. “There’s a better chance for a match for a biracial person.”

Cross’ family, teammates, and friends are urging students through these e-mails to get screened as potential donors.

According to women’s fencing team co-captain Samantha J. Parker ’08 and Brand, fencers have been screened together and along with Cross’ roommates have led efforts to publicize Cross’ condition and the need for donors.

“I’ve taken a lot of interest in it because Sam is one of my closest friends,” she said, adding that she and four other fencers went to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to register to donate.

After sending an e-mail to the Eliot House open list, Parker said she saw others whom she didn’t even know publicizing Cross’ need for a donor on other lists.

“I don’t even know who’s writing it,” she said. “It means people are really caring.”

Some of those people are in high places. According to e-mails from the masters of Lowell and Pforzheimer Houses, University President Derek C. Bok and Associate Dean of the College for Residential Life Suzy M. Nelson have also aided publicity efforts.

While Bok could not be reached for e-mail comment yesterday afternoon, Pfoho House master and Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography James J. McCarthy confirmed that Bok sent an e-mail to other house masters through the office of the Dean of the College asking them to pass information about registering to donate marrow to students in their houses.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, entering the bone marrow registry requires only a cheek swab.

While registering in the national bone marrow database normally costs $52, the Cross family has organized a fund to cover the costs of having a donor entered in the registry, according to a Web site set by the family, www.helpsamiam.com. The cost is also waived for fully or partially Asian donors when they register through the Asian American Donor Program at aadp.org.

But Parker and Brand said there would be a bone marrow recruitment drive at the Harvard Hillel this Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They emphasized that people should register in the bone marrow database not just to help Cross, but to help any other matches who are stricken with cancer. [CORRECTION APPENDED]

“Obviously we’re urging as many people to show up for this as possible,” Brand said. “There’s enough time for people to gather up, come en masse, and help Sam.”

—Staff writer Samuel C. Scott can be reached at sscott@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTIONS: Due to an editing error, the Feb. 5 news article "Undergrad in Need of Bone Marrow" erroneously reported a collaboration between Harvard Hillel and the supporters of Samuel R. Cross '07. There will be a blood drive at Harvard Hillel Wednesday, Feb. 14, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday, Feb. 15, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The drive will continue Friday, Feb. 16, at Adams House. But plans to hold a bone marrow drive in conjunction with next week's blood drive were not confirmed.

The same article incorrectly quoted Samantha J. Parker '08 as saying that Samuel R. Cross '07 is one of her "closet friends." The quotation should have read "closest friends."