A philanthropy-minded group from Dover Air Force Base, a U.S. Air Force recruiter, and NASCAR drivers teamed up to treat a struggling nine-year-old a treat, and to potentially find a bone marrow donor for him.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Meinhold is passionate about getting people signed up to donate bone marrow. In Meinhold’s case it’s not personal.

“Most people when they do marrow donor drives do it with a specific person [in mind],” he said. “I’m kind of unique in that I don’t have anybody in my family who needs this program.”

It might not have impacted his family, but Meinhold, who works in the 9th Airlift Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, certainly takes the cause personally. So much so that he enlisted the help of the U.S. Air Force and NASCAR drivers to help a 9-year-old boy who, until a few months ago, he didn’t know.

Tackling a tough match

Meinhold was introduced to the importance of bone marrow donation in 2000 when a friend’s son needed a donor. That drew him into the cause, and when he was transferred from Texas to Dover in 2004, he brought that cause with him and started Department of Defense donor registry drives on Dover AFB.

He wasn’t satisfied, though, especially after losing his 20-year-old sister in 2007 to an unexplained heart attack.

He felt like he had to do more, to help more people.

“I love working with the DoD program, but it stopped being enough for me,” he said. “I started looking for something more to have more of an impact.”

Last year he got involved with the Driving for Donors national donor drive, and by working with them Meinhold expanded from registering only DoD employees and dependents to holding a drive for the public at Dover Mall Aug. 28.

Fifty-six people signed up through the national Be the Match registry program at the Dover Mall drive. The highlight for Meinhold was that 32 of those people were minorities, which typically have a lower number of donors and more people seeking transplants.

That’s one of the problems a 9-year-old named Lloyd Jones is facing. Lloyd is an especially difficult match because he is African-American, Latino and Native American. Tissue types are inherited, and Meinhold said a match would likely come from a stranger with one or all of Lloyd’s ethnic backgrounds.

His story came to Meinhold through his friends at Driving for Donors. Finding a match for Lloyd now has become part of Meinhold’s goal.
Lloyd has Hypereosinophilic Syndrome, a group of disorders in which there are high numbers of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. A prolonged, high level of these cells eventually may cause tissue damage to organs, according to the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders.

Meinhold met with Lloyd’s mother in mid-June and found out his bike had been stolen. With medical expenses taking priority, it wasn’t likely Lloyd would be getting a new bike any time soon.

Enter Meinhold and friends. They chipped in and bought a new bike for Lloyd to encourage him to be strong, and hopefully be able to ride again soon.

Instead of giving it to him right away though, they held off and enlisted some of his favorite NASCAR drivers to help boost the 9-year-old’s spirits.

Meinhold first called on Frank Russo, Community Activity Center director at Dover AFB, to help. Russo leads the twice-annual on-base NASCAR socials during race weekends, and has helped out in the past getting drivers’ autographs for special occasions. Russo then turned to Enrique Jones, event marketing manager at Air Force headquarters, who is marketing director for the U.S. Air Force
NASCAR No. 19 car driven by Elliot Sadler. He said he gets a lot of requests for signings and favors, and when they come from Russo he knows they’re for a good cause.

“Those are kind of special, those are the right things to do,” he said.
And the drivers are on board 100%, according to Jones.

So Jones and his team received the bike at a hotel in Richmond, Va., shortly before the Air Guard 400 Sept. 11. After getting Jimmy Johnson and Denny Hamlin, the race’s winner, to sign the bike, Jones’ team got it to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where a member of Russo’s team would pick it up and bring it back to Dover and Meinhold.

“There’s a huge line of people that made this happen with that bike,” Russo said.

He didn’t mind the sometimes rushed and confusing process because the request came from Meinhold.

“I do everything I possibly can for him because I don’t often come across people like him who has no, he takes no credit at all. He just forges forward day after day after day,” Russo said.

Meinhold and the team of volunteers’ mission won’t be complete until October, when he visits a bone marrow donor drive where Lloyd will be in attendance. That’s where he’ll be presented the bike signed by some of his idols.

His other goal of getting people to sign up to be potential donors will likely never be done. He said people are apprehensive about donating because they’ve seen it on TV or a movie and it looks painful. He reminds people that they’re not awake during the procedure, and that if they sign up they still may not be called to donate.

“Convincing people to register takes a lot of effort,” he said. “You could talk to 50 people and maybe one person would register. That one person might be the one to match somebody, so I keep doing it.”

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com