October 1, 2004

Marrow drive, bike tour boost donation education

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Julian Fouce, a 15-year-old cancer patient at VCH, is the focus of a bone drive as part of events to welcome the Five Points of Light bicycle tour. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Marrow drive, bike tour boost donation education

Never mind the black T-shirt that says “Bite me,” it’s just an ad for a restaurant chain and it’s misleading because 15-year-old Julian Fouce is the kind of kid whose family and friends would do anything for him.

But he is currently facing a challenge that they will all need help with: attracting total strangers to a bone marrow drive in Julian’s honor this weekend.

Julian, a leukemia patient at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, heads into an infusion room and props his purple Keds up in a recliner. He’s showing a little hair growth on his chin which he wistfully says will fall out soon.

“A lot of people don’t know that to get on the bone marrow donor list is just a simple blood test,” Julian said. “Even though we’ve tested family members, I’ve learned that it’s almost a 100% chance that the actual match will be someone in the public.”

His mother, Maria, is settled into a chair next to him. His father, Tom, stands near by.

“We came back from M.D. Anderson a week ago,” Maria said. “Julian got an experimental drug there that seems to be working. He needs to go into remission before he can get his bone marrow transplant.”

Julian has relapsed with leukemia twice now. The best chance he has for a cure is a bone marrow transplant, but so far family and friends have failed to match closely enough to become his donor.

To help find a match, a donor drive will be held Saturday, Oct. 2 at the American Red Cross at 2201 Charlotte Ave.

The drive is one of the major events this weekend to welcome the Five Points of Life bicycle tour as it passes through Nashville on its journey across the United States. Twelve cyclists and a support crew began their journey in Seattle on Aug. 24 and will pass through Nashville on its way to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The tour plans to arrive in Florida on Oct. 15.

The Five Points of Life tour is meant to bring awareness to five ways people can share life with others: through donation of (1) whole blood, (2) platelets and other products through aphaeresis, (3) stem cells through bone marrow and cord blood donation, (4) whole organ, and (5) tissue donations.

Every team member on the ride has a story to share about how donation has impacted his or her life. Some have been blood or stem cell donors, others have received tissues, blood or organs, or have loved ones who have been either a donor or recipient.

To Julian, the cross country ride echoes another famous ride — the one made by Lance Armstrong, who defeated wide spread cancer before winning the Tour de France an unprecedented six times.

“I was really into the tour,” Julian said. “I watched the whole thing from here (the Children’s Hospital) while I was in treatment.”

That was during what was supposed to be Fouce’s last treatment.

He wore his yellow “LIVESTRONG” bracelet proudly then, as he does now, though stubborn cancer cells have returned.

“Right now I just want to get back to school,” Julian said. “I’ve been out for more than a year. Mostly I’d like to see my friends and get back into a normal routine, go see movies, things like that.”

“This is important to us,” said Maria. “When a friend of ours said she wanted to do something…to organize a marrow drive, we were thrilled. Then she set it up to be part of this event. We just hope a lot of people come out and both donate blood and get on the bone marrow donor list.”

Julian is on a rigorous schedule of chemotherapy to get ready for what the family hopes is a Thanksgiving-time bone marrow transplant. But first, a donor has to be found.

Five Points of Life tour Schedule:

Oct. 1 — Cyclists arrive at 3:30 p.m. at the state Map Plaza at Bicentennial Mall near the state capitol. Haydar Frangoul, M.D, director of the bone marrow transplant program at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, will speak about upcoming events.

Oct. 2 — 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Bone Marrow Drive at the American Red Cross on Charlotte Avenue in honor of Julian Fouce. Noon lunch on the Vanderbilt University campus for cyclists, who will then tour the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.