Firefighters Rally to Save Toddler's Life

The East Bergen Firefighters Mutual Aid Association, a group comprised of firefighters from 11 towns, is holding a blood drive and bone marrow donor search in an effort to save the life of Frankie Potis, the 9-month-old nephew of a Leonia firefighter who died in the line of duty.

The drive will be held Saturday, February 9th at the Edgewater Community Center, 1167 River Road, Edgewater, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be conducted by Community Blood Services of Paramus and the HLA Registry Foundation, based in River Edge.

Frankie was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) during a routine check-up.

"Words cannot describe the fear in my heart as the word 'cancer' was put into the same sentence with my baby's name," said Kelly McPartland Potis, Frankie's mother, a former Leonia resident.

The only chance to save Frankie's life is to find a donor whose bone marrow is a perfect match. His mother is only a partial match. A transplant using her marrow would only have a 30% chance of success.

AML is a cancer of the blood in which too many granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced in the bone marrow. According to the HLA Registry Foundation, a bone marrow transplant replaces the diseased bone marrow cells with cells from a healthy donor. The healthy cells are transfused into a patient's veins through an IV, just like a blood transfusion. Within two to three weeks, the transplanted bone marrow begins to produce normal blood cells in the patient.

Patients undergoing bone marrow transplants for the treatment of leukemias and other life-threatening diseases often need multiple blood transfusions.

Frankie currently lives in Puyallup, Washington with his mother, his father Frank, and 12-year-old brother Dylan.

Frankie and his family had just relocated to Washington when he was diagnosed with leukemia.

"With all of our friends and family back East, we felt alone, and desperately afraid. Dylan, feeling as helpless as us, decided he would take pictures of his little brother around town and ask people to pray we find a bone marrow match," recalled Mrs. Potis.

"When Dylan left a picture at the Puyallup Fire Department, our prayers were literally answered. The firefighters took one look at Frankie's picture and organized a marrow drive. Over 400 people turned out to help little Frankie. We were so overwhelmed. Suddenly, we weren't in this alone. Unfortunately, no match was found."

Frankie will soon join the approximately 3000 people around the country searching the National Marrow Registry for a match.

"The Leukemia Society and Friends of Allison are helping fund this drive," said Tom Quinton, the Edgewater volunteer firefighter who is organizing the drives with help from members of the Leonia Fire Department and Kelly and Frankie's family and friends.

"Our goal is to test as many people as possible in order to increase our chances of finding a donor," he noted.

"People who turn out to give blood are all heroes in my eyes," said Mrs. Potis. "Each one came out to save a life. They heard Frankie's story and instead of just thinking how sad it was they stepped up and did something about it. That's awesome! The kindness from strangers is powerful. I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart."

The outpouring of caring and support from firefighters from two coasts keeps the memory of Gerry Crowell alive for the Potis family.

"Gerry was a Leonia firefighter," said Mrs. Potis. "One night his beeper went off, he did what he always did when he was called out to fight a fire: jump up, and be one of the first to help. Only this fire was different. It was his own house that was ablaze. Gerry and his parents lived upstairs. Gerry died in the flames that night."

Monies from the Gerry Crowell Memorial Fund may be used to offset testing costs if the drive attracts more than 400 potential bone marrow donors.

"When I heard they may be using part of Gerry's fund to help pay for the bone marrow drive it made me smile. Gerry always had a way with the kids, it's like he's reaching down from heaven to lend a hand."

Donations to help pay the cost to test donors and assist the family with their medical expenses can be made payable to the Leonia Fire Department Frankie's Fund, Leonia Volunteer Fire Department Co.#1, c/o NVE Savings Bank, 310 Broad Ave., P.O. Box 125, Leonia, New Jersey 07605.

Blood donors must be 18 years of age (or 17 with a parent's consent), and weigh at least 110 pounds. For more information on the blood drive please call Louise Greiner at Community Blood Services, 201-251-3715.

Bone marrow donors must be between 18 to 60 years old, and have no history of hepatitis, heart disease, cancer or AIDS. For information on the bone marrow donation procedure please call the HLA Registry at 800-336-3363.

To view Frankie's Poster click the Give Life image-

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