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He needs to win this match

In the heat of the day, he would move heavy appliances in and out of homes. He would carry them up flights of steps in the rain and the cold.

But earlier this year, Joseph Grimsley's muscles began to ache.

"The pain would move from my legs to my arms and from one area of my body to the next," Grimsley, 35, said Tuesday. "I was going to doctors for three months. Some days, I could hardly walk."

On Aug. 29, the husband and father of three, who worked six days a week at APSOC Appliance Center and who worked out five days a week, was told he had acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

Two days later, he was at Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center undergoing nine days of heavy chemotherapy.

"It was the last thing I figured," Grimsley said sitting in his living room. "I'm trying to figure out what I've done so wrong, but I figure everything happens for a reason and some good is going to come out of it."

The way his mother, Ethel Grimsley, sees it, one positive is a greater awareness in minority communities of the need to become a bone marrow donor.

Told that he needed a bone marrow transplant, Joseph looked to his brother, Larry, 36.

They weren't a match.

He then checked the national marrow registry maintained by the National Marrow Donor Program.

No match.

So Ethel Grimsley organized a bone marrow and blood donor drive scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today at Bayview Baptist Church in Clearwater. A Florida Blood Services representative will be there to explain the importance of becoming a donor and to get more minorities to register.

"I have a strong belief in God and he will perform a miracle himself or find him a donor," Ethel Grimsley said. "And if we don't find a donor for him, we will help someone else in the meantime. We win both ways."

African-Americans represent just 10 percent of the more than 6-million people on the national donor registry, said Byron Johnson of the National Marrow Donor Program.

"Those who come to the registry looking for a match often don't find one because there are not enough African-Americans on the registry," Johnson said.

There are several reasons for the shortage, Johnson says.

"Historically, there is mistrust of the medical community and a general lack of understanding about the need of marrow in the African-American community," Johnson said. "Ed Bradley just recently passed away from leukemia, but we don't think it affects African-Americans. Leukemia affects at a higher clip than we think it does."

In all races, AML is the most common of the four leukemia types to affect adults, said Andrea Greif of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thus far in 2006, 12,000 adults were diagnosed with AML. For the same period, there were 35,000 new cases for all types of leukemia.

The society says Hispanics experience the highest mortality among patients younger than 25, and African-Americans the highest for patients older than 25 for all leukemias.

Getting on the donor list has become almost painless in recent years. Now, a swab of the inside of the cheek is taken and the processed DNA is put on a list. If a match is generated, the potential donor would then go for further testing to ensure a genetically compatible match.

If there is a match, the marrow can be obtained two ways: by the traditional surgical method or by apheresis or blood transfusion.

"A lot of people don't know what it entails," said Glorea Sadler, recruitment specialist for the National Marrow Donor Program, who works out of the Tampa Bay area's Florida Blood Services offices conducting marrow donor drives in Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Sadler will conduct tonight's seminar and drive.

"They have changed the process so many times and made it more convenient," Sadler said. "I would love to see a large magnitude of people Wednesday, but it just could be that one person that someone is looking for to save their life."

Joseph Grimsley is looking for that one person. But until then, he goes to Moffitt twice a day, three times a week, for one week out of the month for chemo. On Mondays and Thursdays the following two weeks, he goes to Moffitt for blood checks. During that period, because his white blood count is low, he tries to stay away from people because another person's common cold could seize his weak system.

When he can, Grimsley does go to work and helps stock or do things around the appliance center.

"I can't do a lot things," he said. "I'm mostly in the house. I used to go places. It's changed me a lot. But I'm just staying strong. I trust in God and things are going to come around."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

6-MILLION: people on the national bone marrow donor registry

10%: of African-Americans in the national bone marrow donor registry

18: minimum age to donate bone marrow

60: maximum age to donate bone marrow

To find out more about the National Marrow Donor program, and how to become a donor, go to www.marrow.org.

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