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Jaden's Law will raise awareness of need for minority bone marrow donors

In 2007, 3-year-old Jaden Hilton of Atco lost his battle with leukemia. He needed a bone-marrow transfer to survive, but relatives were not a match. Because of the scarcity of registered donors for minorities, he died.

Jaden Hilton.( Photo / courtesy Brett Melius)
Jaden Hilton.( Photo / courtesy Brett Melius)Read more

In 2007, 3-year-old Jaden Hilton of Atco lost his battle with leukemia. He needed a bone-marrow transfer to survive, but relatives were not a match. Because of the scarcity of registered donors for minorities, he died.

But his life and death will soon be a saving grace for others in need of marrow donations, said Shana Melius, cofounder of Preserve Our Legacy Inc., a nonprofit established in Jaden's memory to raise awareness of the need for registered donors.

"Jaden didn't die in vain," said Melius, who met the Hilton family at an event for DKMS, which bills itself as the world's largest bone-marrow donor center. "His life had a purpose."

Since meeting the "rambunctious, loving" boy in December 2006, a month before he died, Melius and her husband, Brett, have founded the nonprofit and pushed the New Jersey legislation that will be known as Jaden's Law.

Designed to promote awareness of the need for donors of bone marrow and stem cells, especially in minority communities, Jaden's Law was sponsored by State Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) and Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex) this month.

"Jaden died because people didn't know," Melius said. "We cannot let this keep happening."

The bill passed the Assembly unanimously in May, and the Senate approved it by 37-0. It will take effect Sept. 10 after a 90-day waiting period.

Under the law, $2 million will be allocated from the general fund to the Department of Health and Senior Services, which will work with Preserve Our Legacy to spread the word about donating.

Melius said the department would prepare an online brochure for its website to detail the donation procedure. The information will also be available at doctor's offices and hospitals.

Most important, she said, the brochure will debunk myths and fears associated with bone-marrow donation.

"What [people] don't know is, all it takes is a swab to the cheek to be on the national bone-marrow registration list," she said.

Melius said the registry was unbalanced, with 73 percent of donations from non-Hispanic whites, 9 percent from Hispanics, 8 percent from African Americans, 7 percent from Asians, and 3 percent from Pacific Islanders.

Minority donors are the most needed because of tissue variations among their populations that make finding matches more challenging.

Ruiz, who is working to get on the donor list, said Jaden would be memorialized as a hero.

"It only takes one person to sit down and save a life," she said.

Jaden's father, Rodney, said he was ecstatic over the law. "My hope is others won't have to suffer like we did."