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Army Sgt. Stefanie Robinson of the Army Health Clinic in Stuttgart, Germany, is organizing a bone marrow donor registration drive.

Army Sgt. Stefanie Robinson of the Army Health Clinic in Stuttgart, Germany, is organizing a bone marrow donor registration drive. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany — Sgt. Stefanie Robinson got the phone call Christmas Eve.

Her best friend, a mother of three and godmother of Robinson’s baby, had been diagnosed with advanced leukemia. The friend, one of those people who’d do anything for anyone, was going to die.

Robinson, a 24-year-old from Phillipsburg, N.J., was crushed but not helpless.

“I just knew I had to do something,” Robinson said. “I didn’t know what.”

Turns out she’s taking over Europe, or at least trying to, by registering every healthy American here to be a potential bone-marrow donor. Today Stuttgart, tomorrow … Landstuhl?

Robinson is hosting a registration drive Monday through Wednesday at the Patch Fitness Center. Her goal is for 3,000 people to go to the gym, have their mouths swabbed and their tissue registered.

The friend, a military spouse whom Robinson declined to name, will soon be flying to the U.S. to spend what are likely to be her final days.

Patients with leukemia and certain other blood diseases sometimes have to resort to bone-marrow transplants. Marrow, a blood-like fluid in the bone cavity, regenerates itself when transplanted into a patient. For a patient, a transplant ideally works to replace unhealthy blood cells with healthy ones.

Finding marrow matches is rare, and transplants are not guaranteed to work.

“But the more people who register, the better the chance for somebody who needs a match to get one,” said Robinson, who works at the Patch Army Health Clinic and is married to Sgt. 1st Class Franz Robinson of 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.

Stefanie Robinson already conducted one donor drive. In March, she got nearly 300 members of her husband’s battalion and others to register.

The C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program is supplying swabs, envelopes and questionnaires. Robinson has rounded up about 20 volunteers to work each day of the drive.

Registration for marrow donors in the Young program has actually decreased in the past five years, from 38,000 in 2000 to 21,000 in 2005.

“The numbers are absolutely appalling,” said Robinson, who was one of the unregistered masses until her friend fell sick.

“I didn’t know about it,” she said. “It’s a lack of awareness. I had no idea it was even out there.”

Robinson has contacted the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center about hosting a registration drive there. Testing the waters elsewhere makes her feel intimidated, though.

“At Ramstein or Kaiserslautern, I’d get stomped on because I’m just a little E-5 sergeant,” she said.

Melissa Rodeffer, another Special Forces spouse and one of the volunteers, said Robinson is a good person for the job.

“It’s not about her at all, it’s about saving other people,” Rodeffer said. “There is no spotlight for her.”

For a patient, finding someone with matching bone marrow is often a hundreds-to-one long shot.

“If I found a match for just one person, if somebody’s life got saved by an overseas drive that I coordinated, that would be, I can’t put it into words … phenomenal, mind-blowing,” she said.

For more information, e-mail Stefanie Robinson at: stefanie.robinson@us.army.mil, or see the Web site www.dodmarrow.com.

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