Anaheim PD hosts bone marrow registry drive for LASD sergeant battling leukemia

By Greg Hardesty

The City of Anaheim employee found out about the event in an email.

So late morning Tuesday, March 14, Elena Camacho grabbed a colleague, Hiroki Nozaki, and headed out to a bone marrow registry drive hosted by the Anaheim PD for an L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. sergeant diagnosed just before Christmas 2016 with acute myeloid leukemia.

Neither Camacho nor Nozaki have had a personal brush with cancer or have close friends in law enforcement.

They just wanted to do what they could in the hopes of helping Sgt. Jorge Chavez, who is awaiting a lifesaving bone marrow transplant.

“I’m healthy, so why not?” said Camacho, 34, a mother of two boys, 10 and 13. “If someone in my family got sick like this, I would hope they would show up and do the same for me.”

Sgt. Jorge Chavez of the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. LASD photo

Sgt. Jorge Chavez of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. LASD photo

The health plight of Chavez, a married father of four and 17-year LASD veteran, has caught the attention of law enforcement agencies throughout L.A. County. And support for Chavez and his family has spread to Orange County, with the Anaheim PD following the Santa Ana PD in hosting a bone marrow registry drive.

“This was a great opportunity for us to help a brother in law enforcement and help other people who are in need of bone marrow matches,” said APD Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez, who organized the APD bone marrow drive, held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Anaheim Central Library, adjacent to the APD’s main headquarters on Harbor Boulevard.

Gonzalez, who is in charge of the APD’s Central District Community Policing Team, said his sister, Lisa Gutierrez, a nurse practitioner in the pediatric oncology department at City of Hope in Duarte, told him about Chavez, who is being treated at the hospital.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Hiroki Nozaki, an employee with the City of Anaheim, swabs the inside of his cheeks. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

So Gonzalez went to work, enlisting several sponsors — from Oakley to Target to Wal-Mart, as well as the California Narcotics Officers Association and Orange County Gang Investigators Association —- to donate goods for a raffle and money for the Chavez family.

By the end of the day, the APD event generated 138 donor swabs and $4,355 for the Chavez family.

“The amount of support has been overwhelming,” Chavez said in a phone interview. “It was completely unexpected.”

People who showed up at the APD bone marrow drive filled out paperwork and used four swabs on the inside of their mouths, the first step in determining if they can save a life. In doing so, they joined the Be The Match registry (bethematch.org) and will be contacted later if their bone marrow matches that of a person in need.

Members of Anaheim PD sign-up as donors during the APD Bone Marrow Donor Registry Drive at the Anaheim Central Library parking log. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Members of the Anaheim PD sign up to join the Be the Match bone marrow registry in the parking lot of the Anaheim Central Library on Tuesday.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

With no matches in his family to help, Chavez’s only hope for a cure is from an unrelated donor match. He is of Mexican and El Salvadoran descent, and only 10 percent of registered marrow donors are Latino, according to Be the Match.

Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, and 70 percent need to search outside their family to find a donor match, according to Be the Match, the global leader in bone marrow transplantation.

For their time, donors at the APD drive were treated to a barbecue lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks and had their names entered in a raffle whose prizes included a smart TV and a ridealong with the APD’s Angel air fleet.

Anaheim PD Officer Kevin Moretti grills hamburgers to be handed out free for those who sign-up as bone marrow donors. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim PD Officer Kevin Moretti grills hamburgers for participants in the March 14 bone marrow registry drive.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Marilyn Akahoshi, 64, lives across the street from the Anaheim PD and showed up for the drive, only to be told she could not register her blood marrow because of her age. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44, although people who showed up outside that range could make a $10 donation to the Chavez family in return for lunch and a raffle ticket.

“I’m paranoid of needles,” said Akahoshi, who didn’t know what to expect, “but I wanted to be able to help someone if I could.”

Akahoshi, who made a $10 donation, said she’s a strong supporter of the APD.

“I really give them a lot of credit,” she said, “and if I can support them 200 percent, I will do it.”

Anaheim PD Officer Kevin Moretti, left, Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez, APD Crime Prevention Specialist Rocio Burress and Officer Cesar Vazquez were among those helping out with the APD Bone Marrow Donor Registry Drive at the Anaheim Central Library. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

From left, Anaheim PD Officer Kevin Moretti, Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez, APD Crime Prevention Specialist Rocio Burress and Officer Cesar Vazquez were among those who organized and helped out at the bone marrow registry drive
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

This isn’t the Chavez family’s first brush with cancer.

George Chavez, Jorge’s son, who showed up at Tuesday’s event, will be four years cancer free in April after a diagnosis of testicular cancer.

“I reassure my dad and remind him to take it one step at a time,” said George Chavez, a third-year college student majoring in business administration.

“So far, he’s been able to handle chemotherapy all right, although he’s experienced some nausea,” George said of his father.

George spent time visiting with his father’s colleagues at the LASD station in San Dimas, where Jorge Chavez worked as a patrol sergeant for three years. He fell ill shortly after transferring from the San Dimas station to work on the LASD’s narcotics unit.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Hiroki Nozaki gets his lunch after joining the Be the Match bone marrow donor registry at an event hosted by the Anaheim PD on Tuesday. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

LASD Sgt. Nicole Davis, Det. Crisanta Reyes and crime analyst Rebecca Robbins have organized bone marrow drives for Chavez at around 40 stations in L.A. County, in addition to the two in O.C., signing up a total of around 1,600 in the Be the Match registry — not counting people who signed up online after hearing about Chavez.

“Jorge is a comedian,” Davis said. “He makes light of every situation and is always having fun.”

Francisco Reynoso, a supervising investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, worked with Chavez when both were officers at the Baldwin Park PD several years ago.

“He’s phenomenal,” Reynoso said. “He’s the type of person who will do anything for you.”

George Chavez said he’s appreciative of the flood of support following his father’s diagnosis.

“I think it’s amazing that the law enforcement community has come together like this,” he said. “Even if a (peace officer) doesn’t know my father, I feel there’s a real sense of community.”

Elena Camacho of Anaheim Fire & Rescue (GIS Technician) receives a free BBQ lunch after signing up as a bone marrow donor during the APD donor drive. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Elena Camacho, a City of Anaheim employee, receives a BBQ lunch after signing up on the Be the Match bone marrow donor registry.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Four days before the Anaheim bone marrow registry drive, Jorge Chavez got some great news: a donor had been found, and his doctor is the process of determining if all systems soon will be go for a transplant.

“The ball has started rolling,” said Jorge Chavez, stressing he’s not out of the woods yet.

He encouraged that as many people as possible continue to register as potential bone marrow donors.

“This isn’t just about me,” Chavez said. “There are so many people in my situation around the world who don’t have the support system I am very fortunate to have, and they need your help.”