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Bone marrow transplant survivors, donors gather in Orlando to celebrate lives saved

Icla Da Silva Foundation holds event to honor donors, raise awareness for bone marrow registry

Mix and Match luncheon celebrates donors and survivors.
Mix and Match luncheon celebrates donors and survivors. (Icla Da Silva Foundation)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Icla Da Silva Foundation held its first-ever luncheon for survivors, volunteers, donors and their families in Orlando.

This event was a chance for everyone involved in the foundation to share their stories and celebrate the lives saved by bone marrow transplants.

More than 100 people from around Central Florida were invited to the event and 23 Orlando-area bone marrow donors were recognized by the foundation.

Everyone gathered at Maggiano’s Little Italy on International Drive to connect and recount their experiences. The foundation holds events like these all over the country to bring people together, talk about the foundation’s mission and to acknowledge the donors for their part in saving lives.

The Icla Da Silva Foundation is a recruitment center for Be The Match Registry, recruiting over 38,000 potential bone marrow donors each year. Be The Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization that helps patients receive life-saving transplants. They work with registries around the world to find patients the match they need to survive.

Airam Da Silva speaks at a luncheon celebrating bone marrow donors.
Airam Da Silva speaks at a luncheon celebrating bone marrow donors. (News 6)

President Airam Da Silva started the foundation in 1992 after his sister, Icla da Silva passed away following her 2-year battle with leukemia. Then 13, Icla, along with her family moved to New York from Brazil in hopes to find her life-saving donor. Unfortunately, she did not find that donor in time.

Before she passed away, Icla told her brother Ariam she wanted to help people like her find a match. Airam has now made it his life’s mission to help others who have cancer and other diseases find donors in hopes to save others.

“My family found no other way than to start the Icla Da Silva Foundation exactly one year after she passed away. In 1995, we were running so many drives and helping so many patients do marrow drives that we were invited by Be The Match to become the official recruitment center,” Da Silva said. “Since then, we have grown to become the largest recruitment center in the country. We have expanded from New York, to Boston to Jersey to Florida, to Puerto Rico to Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago."

Several donors, volunteers, advocates and survivors told their stories about their journey with the foundation and Be The Match.

Rob Minton speaks about his stem-cell transplant at Mix and Match luncheon.
Rob Minton speaks about his stem-cell transplant at Mix and Match luncheon. (News 6)

In 2013, Rob Minton was diagnosed with a very rare cancer, called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Minton’s only chance for survival was a stem-cell transplant and because of Be The Match he received that transplant from an unrelated donor.

Since his transplant in 2014, Minton and his wife Sharon have become advocates for the foundation. They travel all over the United States to spread awareness to others about the importance of joining the donor registry. In 2016, Minton got the chance to meet his stem cell donor, who is in the U.S. Air Force stationed just hours away from where he lived. Minton is grateful for the relationship with his donor and now considers him a part of his extended family. Minton will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congress to push for more funding for the cause.

April Williams started a childhood cancer foundation in Orlando after her son, Caleb Solomon Williams, lost his battle with T-Cell Lymphoblastic cancer in 2013. Caleb was just 5-years-old old when he was diagnosed with cancer. Williams and the BELAC Foundation’s goal is to spread awareness to the cause and help others cope with the illness.

A 23-year leukemia survivor told his inspiring story and gave his thanks to Be The Match for saving his life after being diagnosed with cancer. He met is donor three years ago on his 20th anniversary. He now tells his story in hopes that others will see the importance of joining the registry.

Taylor speaks about giving his bone marrow to a person in need.
Taylor speaks about giving his bone marrow to a person in need. (News 6)

Taylor, 24, became a donor in college 6 years ago. He joined the registry after his mom became a donor in 1990. He gave his bone marrow to a patient six months ago and said he was happy to do it. He hopes that the patient is recovering well and is looking forward to meeting that person someday.

The heartwarming stories that were shared at the event showed how helping someone in need can greatly affect the lives of others. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself and having the opportunity to potentially save someone’s life.

Students from the University of Central Florida and Valencia College were also in attendance and shared their experiences with the program. Groups and fraternities at these colleges hold donor drives to help spread the word. These events include workshops and fundraising efforts to help with the recruitment, patient care, and medical research for the foundations. Events like these are held all around the country to educate people and hopefully add more people to the registry.

UCF will be hosting a four-day donor drive from March 31 to April 3. The drive will be held at the Pegasus Ball Room in the Student Union from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Donor celebrating at Mix and Match luncheon.
Donor celebrating at Mix and Match luncheon. (Icla Da Silva Foundation)

The Icla Da Silva Foundation recently celebrated 100,000 transplants, which means that 100,000 donors gave their time to save a stranger’s life.

Every three minutes someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukemia, and every 10 minutes, someone dies from a blood cancer because they are unable to find a cure in time. A donor might be someone’s only hope for a cure and adding diversity to the registry is crucial for patients of ethnic backgrounds. According to Be The Match, patients who are Hispanic have a 46% chance of finding a match, whereas African-Americans only have a 23% chance.

Icla Da Silva and Be The Match are the same foundations that helped 4-year-old Chloe Bella Carvalho find her life-saving match in December 2019.

Chloe Bella Carvalho is recovering after a bone marrow transplant.
Chloe Bella Carvalho is recovering after a bone marrow transplant. (Courtesy Nayara Hermes)

Chloe Bella was diagnosed with a very rare form of leukemia but after the outpouring of help and support of the public, she was able to find her miracle match just months later. Chloe Bella is now home, recovering with her family in Orlando.

If you want to get involved or register to be a donor you can text the word “ICLA” to 61474 or visit http://join.bethematch.org/Icla for more information.


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