BRADENTON -- A bone marrow drive for 3-year-old Bradenton cancer victim Gianna "Gia" Lesselroth ended nearly an hour early Tuesday because volunteers ran out of mouth swab kits after 457 people showed up see if they were a match.
The drive was supposed to go from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the downtown Bradenton Police Department lobby, but volunteers posted a note on the BPD front door at 1:30 p.m. saying there were no more kits and to go to bethe match.org to test online.
"What a blessing," said family friend Salina Robbins. "Gia's family will be amazed."
Experts say one in 540 people tested eventually donate bone marrow for a person in need.
Swabs go into a data bank and could be used for other people, said Bradenton police officer Emile Parsons, who organized the marrow drive.
"We never expected this response and we are overjoyed," said Bradenton police detective Yolanda Cox, who assisted Parsons in the drive.
The generosity shattered
the old Be The Match record of 230 swabs for a single-drive event, Cox said.
Only 30 people showed up Saturday for a fundraiser for Gia, said family friend Mark Pearson.
"This was an overwhelming response," Pearson said.
Gia is in an experimental cancer treatment program in Boston, but her parents say she will eventually need a bone marrow transplant to have a chance to completely rid herself of the disease.
People who match a patient will be notified by Be The Match, organizers said.
"I'm an ICU nurse at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and if anything like this happened to one of my kids, I would hope the public would help me as well," said Dianna Rist of Palmetto, who came to the BPD lobby with her boys, Grayson, 2, and Holden, 1 to give a swab sample, which amounted to rubbing a tiny sponge on a stick on the inside of her cheeks.
Another mother, Charlene Montanez of Bradenton, said she has been following Gia's story in the Bradenton Herald and on Facebook.
"She's a baby and a baby deserves a life," Montanez said as she swabbed.
Parsons and Cox said they were overwhelmed by the response.
The police department lobby was crowded with up to 30 people through the morning, as volunteers helped people swab.
Swabs can only be accepted from people ages 18 to 44.
"I would want someone to do this for my daughter," said Jenifer Thiemann, whose daughter, Parker, 2 1/2, played with Brody Hines, 3, whose grandmother was a volunteer helping people swab.
"This is for you, Gia," Kelly Hillman, director of events at Manatee School For the Arts, said as she swabbed.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.