Barry Saunders

Go to Greek Festival and maybe help someone in need – Saunders

Nick Dombalis is proud of his Greek heritage. His grandfather founded Mecca, a popular downtown restaurant, and Nick has been an active member of several civic, health and professional organizations.

His Greek heritage might, however, make it harder for doctors to cure his health crisis. Dombalis was recently diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a type of blood cancer, and needs a bone marrow transplant.

“There’s a huge need for diversity on the registry,” Bessie Letterle of the Be the Match Marrow registry told me this week. “You match someone most closely to your own background. Patients of diverse ethnic backgrounds sometime struggle finding a match because 75 percent of the people on our registry are Caucasian. Only about 7 percent are African American, 1 percent is Native American. So, you see, it’s critical that we look to increasing diversity. But we welcome everyone.”

While speaking with Letterle on Tuesday, it occurred to me that I’d spoken with her last year when Superior Court Judge Carl Fox direly needed a marrow transplant and friends of Fox started a “Save the Fox” drive that registered more than 2,100 potential donors.

Many of them were African American, a fact that is much appreciated by Letterle and the thousands of people who need a transplant. “Of the 12.5 million people on the registry, only 770,000 identify as black,” she said. “That sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t matter how many there are until we add the right person who is a match.”

Several hundred people registered to help Fox, a firm but compassionate jurist who may have lowered the judicial boom on some of them or their relatives. I even went to a prison and interviewed an inmate who’d received a heavy sentence from Judge Fox but who still wanted to see whether he was a match.

We certainly encourage people of Mediterranean background to join the registry. Every person who joins increases the likelihood of finding a match.

Bessie Letterle, Be the Match Marrow registry

I wonder how many will come out this weekend to see whether they match Dombalis?

Letterle, of Be the Match Marrow registry, and Dombalis’ friends and family want people to come out and get swabbed at the Raleigh Greek Festival at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, starting Friday.

Chill, homes. Despite what it sounds like, getting swabbed is perfectly legal and PG-rated, as long as you’re between the ages of 18 and 44. To find out if you’re a match, all you have to do is fill out some paperwork, allow someone to rub a big Q-tip on the inside of your cheek and then wait to see if you can be Nick’s or someone else’s lifesaving super hero.

A help to others

Dombalis makes his living as an attorney. That, family and friends say, is just his profession, how he makes his living.

His passion, which you see when you look at the various civic organizations with which he works, is helping others. Among other things, he’s been a member of the board of Interact, which helps battered women; chairman of the Board of the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and a member of Christ Church. Dombalis was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Raleigh Jaycees for his service to the community.

Helen Dombalis, Nick’s daughter, told me that family lore has it that the restaurant, a downtown mainstay for 86 years, was named Mecca because the word means “any place that attracts many visitors with a similar interest.”

“That’s our goal for the Greek Festival this weekend, to be just that,” she said.

Letterle said, “We certainly encourage people of Mediterranean background to join the registry. Every person who joins increases the likelihood of finding a match” for someone in need.

So, if you go to the Jim Graham Building on Friday, Saturday or Sunday for some souvlaki or a gyro – sorry, those are the only Greek dishes I know right offhand – why not stop in and see if you can save a life?

The marrow registry drive will go Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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