U.S. Baby Sparks Italy's First Bone Marrow Drive

Palermo now runs a Web site in Italian for Giovanni, www.salviamogiovanni.org, and with the help of the Cinque Terre National Park, he organized the first bone marrow drive ever in Italy on March 17 in Riomaggiore. A dozen employees of the park gathered to get tested as potential donors.

"The response from the Cinque Terre was spontaneous," Palermo said. "The five Mediterranean villages on this stretch of coast are said to be founded by Greeks, and if that were not enough, there is a 100-year history of emigration to the U.S. from this area. Almost everyone here has relatives in the U.S."

Palermo's efforts have inspired a lot of potential donors: "More than 100 from all over Italy," he said proudly. With the help of Luca Oss Emer from the Alpine city of Trento, the number of potential donors in Italy comes close to 200.

That may not sound like a large number, but it is a start in a country where there is little awareness about the significance of donating bone marrow. It also takes more effort in Italy, where there is no cheek-swab test for potential donors. A blood test is needed, which entails a visit to a hospital with a blood-transfusion center.

There are 350,000 people in the Italian Register of Bone Marrow Donors, and to date 84 Italians have donated bone marrow to Americans in need, while American donors to Italy number 496.

The Italian Web site informs potential donors where to go and what to do in order to become donors and possibly help Giovanni. It tells Giovanni's story and has started to trace, with pride, the roots of Michael Guglielmo's family in Italy.

For the moment, Palermo and his colleagues are working hard for Giovanni.

"Giovanni is our symbol and inspiration," Palermo said. "But our effort is for all those who can benefit from a bone marrow transplant. We want people to know how you can save a life with so little."

"Of course," he said, "our first goal is to save Giovanni and bring him here to Riomaggiore for a big celebration!"

Now wouldn't Giovanni enjoy that.

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