By Air Force Airman 1st Class Matthew Hubby
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. - When Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Meinhold heard about a boy known as L.J. who might benefit from a bone marrow transplant, he set up a donor registry drive in the hope of finding a match for the boy.
But Meinhold didn't stop there in his efforts to help L.J.
The boy was suffering from erythroblastic leukemia, which is very rare in children. But in addition, his bicycle had been stolen. Riding his bike had been one of L.J.'s favorite activities before his cancer had rendered him unable to play outdoors.
Meinhold, who is assigned to the 9th Airlift Squadron here, posted the child's story on Facebook and raised enough money to add to his own contribution to get a new bike that L.J. could ride when he gets better.
But an ordinary bike wouldn't do.
Meinhold contacted Frank Russo, 436th Force Support Squadron community activity center director, to see if he could get the bicycle signed by a few NASCAR drivers.
Russo arranged to ship the bike to Richmond, Va., to be signed by NASCAR drivers Jimmy Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Also included with the bike were the photos of the drivers who signed it.
"Kids are resilient, but having something to look forward to when they get better helps," Meinhold said. "This is the fifth time I've run into a story like this, and I really couldn't get it done without Mr. Russo. The first time I spoke with him, I didn't have a clue how to get these things done."
Getting the bike to and from Richmond was no small endeavor. It had to be taken apart for shipment and reassembled so it would be ready for the drivers to sign.
"Whatever Sgt. Meinhold asks me to do, I get it done," Russo said. "I have a lot of respect for Sergeant Meinhold. He not only works his job and takes care of his family, but he also takes the time to help out those who need his help with the bone marrow drives. You can't say no to a guy who puts that much effort into helping others.
"This entire project has been Air Force all the way," Russo added. "I would love to see Dover Air Force Base help be a part of this great humanitarian story."
The leukemia L.J. suffers from causes his body's immune system to destroy all the cells it can find. It cannot differentiate between noncancer cells and cancer cells, Meinhold said.
Meinhold said he's happy to do anything he can to help. "It makes living with what they are going through a little easier," he said. "L.J. is definitely in for a long fight. He's gone through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and they caught it pretty early. However, most children who have this form of leukemia rarely make it to adulthood.
"Right now, our hope is to find L.J. a matching donor," Meinhold continued, "and also get the word out about being a bone marrow donor to those who might have the wrong information. There are two drives that I am working with: the Department of Defense program, and a civilian program. I highly encourage all [Defense Department] card holders to register when the next drive starts."