Two fight to keep spirits bright while awaiting life-saving donor

Laur DeAguiar, 44, spends most afternoons sitting on the sofa in her Sebastapol home, knitting richly colored blankets of angora and silk.

So far, she's finished one each for her two daughters, one for her mother, and she hopes to complete one for her husband, John. She knows she needs to hurry.

The blankets are pre-mementos, gifts for her loved ones to remember Laur after she's gone.

Laur DeAguiar is dying.

A year ago, after more than a decade of unexplained illness, depression and fatigue, the former architect and concert pianist received the diagnosis: idiopathic myelofibrosis, a terminal genetic blood disorder.

Her only chance is a bone-marrow transplant.

That's why she hopes for a good turnout at a bone-marrow donor identification drive to be held Sunday at sites in San Francisco and Santa Rosa.

No needles are involved. A simple swab of cells inside the mouth collects all the necessary genetic information.

Anyone interested in saving a life will be welcome, but in particular, drive organizers are seeking people of European Jewish descent.

The worldwide bone-marrow donor registry is woefully short on Jewish donors.

Anita Friedman is executive director of Jewish Family and Children's Services, one of the agencies co-sponsoring this weekend's donor drive.

"We're trying to spearhead a national effort to get the Jewish community more involved," she says. "We have to increase awareness of this need."

Alan Snyder, 59, couldn't agree more. Three years ago, the San Francisco stockbroker and Jewish community activist received the same grim diagnosis as DeAguiar. He's been fighting like mad ever since.

"It's devastating getting any diagnosis," he says, "but I quickly got over that and started doing research. Transplant technology has advanced enormously in the last few years. These sorts of diseases were basically death sentences in the past, but today, the prognosis is positive."

That is, of course, if a match can be found.

In Snyder's case, what looked like the perfect match was found more than a year ago. He underwent the grueling transplant procedure and recovery. For a few months, all looked well, but over time his body rejected the new cells.

Nevertheless, he believes a more promising match is out there waiting to for him.

DeAguiar wants to believe as well. "I'm rationally pessimistic," she says, "but my spirit is hopeful."

Born in Minnesota, the daughter of a Quaker mother and a German Jewish refugee father, DeAguiar grew up disconnected from her Jewish roots.

By her teen years, however, she latched on fiercely to Judaism and has remained a committed Jew ever since, even living for a time in an Orthodox community near Honolulu.

That's where she met her husband, a convert to Judaism. She and John moved to Sonoma County to rear their daughters, Ariel, 14, and Sylvia, 12.

During her second pregnancy, DeAguiar noticed something was wrong. "I was extremely fatigued and depressed," she says, "but I knew it wasn't emotional. The doctors dismissed it. After five years, I figured I was either nuts or something was seriously wrong."

Though she had suspected myelofibrosis all along, it wasn't until last year, during a bone marrow biopsy, that her worst fears were confirmed. "When they couldn't get the marrow out, then I knew I had a clock ticking."

The disorder, part of the leukemia family, causes a decline in red blood cell production, robbing the muscles of oxygen. Worse, it spurs the growth of fibroid lesions within the bone marrow where normal blood cell production takes place.

Naturally, a blow like this would stagger the strongest individual. DeAguiar found her own ways of coping.

"Once, when I was deeply depressed, I read the Lamentations of Jeremiah," she recalls. "It spoke directly to me, about bones on fire and complete destruction. I realized I'm not alone in this; that it's happened to other people on a much bigger scale. This was just my own personal terrorist attack."

Snyder, too, has reached a point of acceptance, despite his fighting spirit. "It's called 'the gift of cancer,'" he says. "Some people curl up into a shell, but if you have a positive outlook, you focus on living each day, and you have a much better chance of making it through. I firmly believe I'll make it."

He credits others, especially his wife, Suzie Katz-Snyder, with getting him through the tougher moments. "Over the years," notes Snyder, "friends became deeper friends, acquaintances became close friends, and even total strangers have come out to help me."

DeAguiar has her own parallel experiences. "I live everyday rather cheerful," she says, "and not in pain. There are moments when I feel afraid for my kids and what they'll go through, but I'm unafraid of dying. I value the time I have."

That includes, she hopes, being on the bimah at daughter Sylvia's bat mitzvah this June.

To dance at Sylvia's wedding, her chances will be best if people in the Jewish community come out to this and other bone-marrow donation drives around the world.

Says JFCS's Friedman, "I can't think of anything more important than saving a life. It's extremely important that the community keep its promises. We promised we'd be there for them. If not now, when?"

A bone marrow donor drive will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, at Jewish Family and Children's Services, 1360 N. Dutton Ave., Suite C, Santa Rosa, and at 1 to 5:30 p.m. at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., S. F., main foyer, 1:00 to 5:30 p.m.

The focus is on people of German and Eastern European Jewish descent, but no qualified donor will be turned away. Information: or (800) 9-MARROW.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.