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Latinos can save a compadre’s life

Updated: August 12, 2013 9:38AM

Encarnacion Roldan, a sergeant for the Cook County sheriff, has a reputation among police officers for being a strict supervisor.

That’s what officer Pamela Walker told me last week when we talked about Roldan, 51.

“He’s militant,” she said. “He wants you in proper uniform and you had better be punctual.”

She is also familiar with Roldan’s softer side that makes him popular among cops. When an officer loses a loved one or becomes ill, Roldan is the first to pass around a card and start a collection to offset costs of services.

The sergeant has gotten to know plenty of cops in his 28-year career. He oversees officers at county hospitals, or at least he did until he was afflicted last fall with T-cell peripheral lymphoma.

Doctors gave him less than a year to live, Roldan’s sister said, but they pumped him with chemotherapy and the aggressive cancer went into remission.

In the spring it returned with a vengeance, and Roldan now needs a bone-marrow transplant to survive.

There are about 9 million people registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, according to Julie Contreras, a marrow account manager for LifeSource. Yet, doctors cannot find a suitable match for Roldan.

He is Latino, and among those 9 million who are registered, only about 400,000 are Latinos. Such a low number doesn’t give Roldan or other Latinos in a similar fight a fraction of a chance to win.

Roldan needs bone marrow from someone with a similar heritage. He needs a Latino (a k a Hispanic). His sister registered but was not a match.

I am making a plea to fellow Latinos: Let’s try to save this man. Go to and register for the marrow program. The sign-up process is quick and painless. Social Security numbers are not needed to register. You don’t have to be in this country legally to help. If you are a potential match, you go through easy additional testing.

At a bone marrow drive for Roldan last week, after conducting interviews, I answered a few questions on paper and swabbed my cheek to sign up. That’s it. I was registered.

Across the board, the registry has a shortage of minorities because of cultural taboos, Contreras, the marrow account manager, said. The shortage “is a crisis that can be changed. We have to change our mindset.”

Roldan’s dire health crisis should spur us to act quickly.

You couldn’t miss him at last week’s marrow drive. A day after receiving chemotherapy, he sat outside the court building at 26th and California with a surgical mask on his face and hand sanitizer nearby as he greeted countless officers who said hello and signed up for the registry under a white canopy.

Latino officers showed up as well as white and African-American ones. One officer had colorful tattoos all over him, and I couldn’t tell what color or ethnicity he was until I noticed his shiny silver tag that said Alvarez.

They all came out to support Roldan and others fighting blood cancers.

“It’s showing me that 28 years I put in the department was well worth every single second every single day,” Roldan said.

If he can put in two more years, he can retire with 30 years of service and a full pension. Roldan said 30-year officers also receive a plaque to mark the achievement.

“That’s my goal,” he added.

The Latino community needs to try to help him get it. Think of the many lives we can save along the way.

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