"It’s incredible to see a turnout like that and it means there’s a potential for a lot of people to be helped,” Susan Groh said of the bone marrow drive held Saturday in her honor. “It brought tears to my eyes and I’m so inspired that so many people came out for something like this. I feel really blessed.”
Groh, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, in February, was joyous because more than 150 people attended the event at Winslow Soccer Field to donate.
With instruments looking much like large, one-sided Q-Tips, donors swabbed the insides of their cheeks and submitted them to on-hand Rhode Island Blood Center employees. Their information will be entered into a national registry called “Be the Match,” which has successfully helped make 50,000 transplants in 25 years. More than 20 million people are in the registry.
The swabs will then be examined by health care professionals to determine if their cells pair with Groh’s. If a match is found, the person makes a cell donation through a procedure that is similar to a blood donation and cells are extracted from the blood.
While Groh was only able to attend the drive and wave from the sidelines for a few moments, as her doctor advised her that her immune system is vulnerable, her husband Jack, as well as her three children, were there from the minute it began at 8:30 a.m. until well after it concluded four hours later.
Like Groh, they praised their family and friends for the support.
“It’s very heartwarming and it shows you what kind of community we live in,” said Jack. “You see how much people care. We saw people we’ve lost touch with over the years and we met a lot of new people, too.”
For Sarah, 23, who works for Horizons for Homeless Children, a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts, the day also brought old and new friends along. In fact, nearly 20 members of her soccer team from her years at Lesley University surprised her and made donations.
“I didn't even know the freshmen that came because I graduated a year ago but one of the freshmen told our captain, ‘If Sarah was your teammate, she's my teammate,’” Sarah said. “It’s amazing that people are rallying around our family and also really touching that it could help so many people. I think it’s really cool that people can’t say enough about what a positive person my mother is and how much she has done for the community.”
Her brother, John, 20, agreed. He said the outreach from people doesn’t surprise him because his parents are always willing to volunteer their time for others.
Groh serves on the board of Volunteers of Warwick Schools, coaches for the Warwick Fire Fighters Soccer Club (WFFSC) and helps out the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
“She’s an excellent person and she raised me the same way: put other people first no matter what the circumstance is,” John said. “Having leukemia is definitely not easy and she’s still thinking about everyone else.”
Those who made donations said they were happy to lend a hand. Whether they knew Groh personally or not, they each contributed not only their cells in hopes for a match, but they supplied encouragement.
Stephen Simmons, a coach for WFFSC, made a donation and even offered to provide entertainment for the spaghetti dinner in honor of Groh, which will take place May 19 at Greenwood Elementary School at 93 Sharon Street.
Another donor, Bill Gagnon, also a WFFSC coach, said he’s always wanted to make a marrow donation but never knew where to go.
“It’s for a good cause,” he said. “I have kids of my own and if something happened, it’s nice to know that people come out and donate.”
Soccer player Amanda Ruggieri, 18, made a donation, as well. She has known the Groh family through the league, as she has been playing since she was 7.
“I know someone else who has leukemia and is looking for a bone marrow transplant,” she said. “Helping anyone out would be amazing.”
Close family friends and acquaintances felt the same. Joyce Andrade, who serves on the VOWS board with Groh, described her as a “dedicated and giving” woman. Andrade’s husband, Richard, attended the event with her and they both made donations.
“I’ve been serving on the board with her for over 15 years and she’s always working very hard and doing things for other people,” Andrade said. “This is a small thing for us to do for someone who needs it.”
Friends Patricia O’Kane and Karen Zangari each made donations and said helping out was a no-brainer.
“They are just the nicest people and always thinking of others,” said O’Kane. “She’s a very sweet person and I want to do whatever I can.”
Zangari echoed O’Kane.
“She does so much for everyone else,” Zangari said. “I remember when my son was born she was helping me with the Christening gown at the Christening. It was so nice. She’s always focusing in other peoples’ needs.”
Stephanie and Ray Meunier, who helped organize the event and are affiliated with the Cub Scouts, said they were amazed that so many people turned up to help a stranger.
“People have shown up that don’t even know her,” Stephanie said. “They just heard about her story and felt a connection.”
Susan and Jack also feel that connection. While they are hopeful a match will be found for Susan, they are thinking about how the event might help save another.
“It’s neat to think about how many other lives could be saved as a result of this,” Jack said.
To learn more about how to be a donor, visit BeTheMatch.org or cal 1-800-MARROW-2.
For more information or to get tickets for the spaghetti supper, visit bethematchforsusan.blogspot.com. Tickets can also be purchased with cash or check at Winslow Field May 5 and May 12 from 9 to 11 a.m.