KAHULUI - A former Maui County fire captain suffering from leukemia hopes that many people show up at a bone marrow drive Saturday so he as well as "thousands of people worldwide" can find a matching donor.
Just about a year ago, Lance Wendel noticed when responding to a fire call that he got short of breath and his thighs started burning while walking up a hill. He also started sleeping a lot.
Then after three months of blood and bone marrow testing he was diagnosed with early-stage leukemia. Later in November, his failing health forced him to retire after 27 years of service to the department. The last three were at the Hana Fire Station.
"My goal on Saturday is to register as many people as possible, not only for a possible match for myself but for the thousands of people worldwide who are waiting for a donor," said the 58-year-old Kula resident, who is undergoing chemotherapy.
The Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry will be at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday to conduct a bone marrow drive with the help of Maui firefighters.
Wendel's mission is to help others by hosting a drive to recruit donors for the Be The Match registry, with which the Hawaii registry is affiliated. Wendel and his fellow firefighters are volunteering their time to assist the staff of the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry in educating people about the importance of becoming donors for patients in Hawaii and all over the world, according to an event announcement.
Donors must meet health guidelines and be willing to donate to anyone in need. The registry is focusing on younger marrow donors to give patients the best chance at successful transplants. The current age requirement to register is between 18 and 60.
Wendel said he is very anemic, which makes it hard for his body to circulate enough oxygen.
He added that the effects of the disease include lack of energy, bad headaches, bone aches, dizziness, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, loss of concentration and excess iron in his blood, which could affect his major organs.
Wendel has a wife, Carol, and two children, a 28-year-old daughter, Nicole, and 21-year-old son, Marques.
The Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry was founded in 1989 at St. Francis Medical Center and has joined the National Marrow Donor Program to help patients find healthy and willing bone marrow or blood stem cell donors. Only 30 percent of patients will find matching donors within their families, and so others need to find unrelated matches.
Matches are more easily found between people of the same ethnic background. Since 1989, the Hawaii registry has recruited about 78,000 registered donors in Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa. More than 329 of those donors have actually donated bone marrow or blood stem cells to patients.
To learn more about the National Marrow Donor Program, go online to www.bethematch.org.