Daughter Andrea, mother Maria and Officer Enrique Estrada

 

 

The community will come together Wednesday to help a teacher, wife and mother get through her second bout of cancer when the Santa Monica Police Department hosts a bone marrow donor registry drive.

Jail administrator Jennifer Estrada organized the drive to help the wife of 11-year veteran Officer Enrique Rodriguez. Doctors diagnosed his wife, Maria, a breast cancer survivor, with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in December.

“It’s horrible to think that somebody who has gone through that and is so wonderful – a great teacher, a great wife, a great mother, that it happened to her again,” Enrique said. “It’s hard to understand and comprehend and, sometimes, hard to deal with.”

Enrique has worked at the police department since 1994, first as a civilian before becoming a sworn officer in 2006. He currently works on the Homeless Liaison Program, the task force that deals exclusively with issues facing the transient population. Maria is a second grade teacher at El Marino Elementary School in Culver City. The couple has a 19-year-old daughter.

The law enforcement community has rallied around the family to help as much as they can – a recent cupcake sale raised a staggering $7,000 for the family’s medical costs. However, to survive cancer again Maria needs a bone marrow transplant. Her family has been tested but only yielded a 25 percent match from her sister. Doctors hope she can do better than that.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions,” Enrique said. He knows it is unlikely the drive will find a match for Maria. Her DNA has already been compared to 28 million people in an international database. Even if the drive doesn’t help Maria, there’s a chance it can help someone else suffering from blood or bone cancer.

Estrada says getting tested only takes ten to fifteen minutes. Beachy Cream Organic Ice Cream is donating ice cream sandwiches to the event to sweeten the deal.

“It’s very simple. It’s a q-tip that they insert into your mouth and take the swab,” Estrada said. “It takes longer to fill out the piece of paper that accompanies it.”

The drive goes from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday and takes place on the second floor of the parking structure across from the police station at 330 Olympic Drive. To join the registry you must be between the ages of 18 and 44, in good health, and committed to helping anyone in need, not just Maria.

“It’s especially important that we add diversity to the registry,” Be the Match community engagement coordinator Julie Korinke said. It is more difficulties to find matches for minorities and patients of mixed race because those groups are underrepresented in the current registry.

“It’s a really unique opportunity to save somebody’s life,” Korinke said, adding that participants who do get matched with a cancer patient can donate through a simple outpatient procedure.

Estrada has been printing out flyers with Maria’s picture and making sure they are posted all over Santa Monica to raise awareness. She’s hoping for a good turnout Wednesday to add people to the registry and lift Maria and Enrique’s spirits.

“When something happens we’re family and we stick together,” Estrada said.

kate@www.smdp.com