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KDADS Secretary Says He’ll Lead Bone Marrow Drive For Parsons Employee

Courtesy Zach Williams
Zach Williams, a mental health developmental disability technician at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center, was diagnosed earlier this year with acute myeloid leukemia. He's pictured here with his son Jaquan.

Since he took over as interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, Tim Keck has emphasized improving morale at state hospitals by letting employees know they are appreciated and their concerns are heard.

Now Keck is backing up those words with action of a personal sort, encouraging KDADS employees to participate in a bone marrow drive on behalf of a co-worker in need of a transplant.

In a statement released Wednesday, Keck said he plans to be first in line next week when agency employees get their cheeks swabbed to determine whether they’re a match for Zach Williams, who has acute myeloid leukemia.

“Every KDADS employee understands the importance of helping Zach and his family in their time of need, especially facing an uncertain future,” Keck said. “It’s part of the mission of the agency — to foster an environment that promotes security, dignity and independence — and I will be the first donor in line.”

Williams is a mental health developmental disability technician at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center, one of two state facilities for Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Keck’s comments about employee morale primarily have been geared toward the state’s two facilities that serve Kansans with mental illnesses in Osawatomie and Larned and have struggled to recruit and retain staff http://www.khi.org/news/article/senate-mulls-committee-to-study-problems-at-state-psychiatric-hospitals .

Williams, a father of four, was diagnosed in February by doctors who told him he could expect to live only a few more months.

But physicians at a specialized cancer care center in Chicago had a more optimistic prognosis — if Williams can find a bone marrow donor who is at least a 50 percent match. None of the 22 million U.S. donors currently registered fit the criteria.

Williams is African-American, a demographic that is underrepresented on the registry.

“We need more African-American donors,” he said. “Even if someone doesn’t match me, they could save someone else.”

The bone marrow drive is being organized by Marlys Shomber-Jones, program manager at the Parsons hospital.

Shomber-Jones said there are 14,000 Americans awaiting a bone marrow match.

“Patients are most likely to match donors who share their ancestry, which means that a more diverse registry will raise the odds of matches for African-American patients like Zach who are in need of a life-saving transplant,” Shomber-Jones said. “Unfortunately, less than half of patients with ethnic backgrounds searching for a transplant will find one due to lack of diversity on the registry.”

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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