Shaquille O'Neal is 7 foot 1. He weighs 325 pounds.
Stephanie Chimento is 4 foot 9. She's weighed as little as 78 pounds.
They are both champions for the National Marrow Donor Registry. Chimento and her family and friends are holding a local drive Saturday to encourage more people to sign up for the national registry of potential donors. The basketball superstar has done PSAs imploring everyone, especially African-Americans, to register.
Tribune Chronicle / Michelle Robbins
Stephanie Chimento, left, is shown at the family home with her twin sister Tiffany, center, and their mother Mary Anne Gania. The sisters are working together to find a bone marrow donor for Stephanie, who suffers from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Chimento, of Warren, has Hodgkin's lymphoma. She has a degree in elementary education and works for Fusillo Catering at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Chimento was first diagnosed in the spring of 2005. Her symptoms included fatigue, weight loss and, of all things, itchy feet. In October 2006, she donated her own cells for transplant and was declared cancer free for a year and a half.
Before a transplant, rigorous chemotherapy and radiation are required, but Chimento's mother, Mary Anne Gania, said her daughter would get chemo one day and mow the lawn the next.
Be the Match Drive
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Social Hall, 343 Via Mount Carmel, Youngstown
Call Barbara for eligibility questions at 888-862-7769, Ext. 7085
"She's amazing," Gania said, adding that her daughter already loved to wear a bandana on her head and had one to match every outfit.
In 2009, the cancer returned, so her sister, Tiffany, became the next to donate stem cells. Here, the story gets more interesting.
"For 27 years, I thought I had fraternal twins," Gania said. That's what the doctors said after her C-section delivery. That's what the pediatrician always said. But after the donation, the family learned that Stephanie and Tiffany were identical.
Seems like good news? "They had to scrape me off the floor," Gania said.
She knew, being a nurse, that a transplant from identical twins would not work - the cells need to have 25 DNA markers that match, but it can't be all of them. So, in a sense, Gania said they have changed history at The Cleveland Clinic, because now DNA testing will be done on twins before a transplant, not after.
There was some progress for the patient.
"It shrunk, but they're still there," Stephanie said. She goes every three months to the Clinic for a scan, during which the family prays the tumors don't grow. She said she feels good.
Registering for the network is easy - fill out some paperwork and do a cheek swab.
"Most people don't take joining a registry lightly," said Barbara Nolan of the Be the Match Registry division in Cleveland. "You're not going to donate on a Wednesday and get called on a Friday."
Tiffany Chimento said even donating wasn't difficult. She had a port put in her neck (arms are used only if the veins are very accessible). Then she sat for four hours while an apheresis machine that Gania said looks a little like dialysis separated whole blood from stem cells. The blood is returned to the donor, and the stem cells go into a frozen bag.
Over two sessions, Tiffany gave 14 million stem cells.
"Most people who join the registry join it for the right reasons - it is a voluntary program. They've thought about the process," Nolan said. "Don't do it out of guilt but because you want to. If it's not for you right now, that's OK.
"Maybe the best way for them to support us to help cover the cost."
The recruitment goal for Saturday's event is to add 300 new members to the Be the Match Registry.
"We may find someone in California who's a match," said Mary Jean Lowry McCaffrey, a longtime friend of Garia who is heading up the event. "Hopefully we'll find it for Steffy, but probably for someone else anywhere. She is just a go-getter, this kid."
Gania and her daughters, all three graduates of St. Christine's, Ursuline and YSU, said they want it to be a social event. Those who can't donate because of age or health are welcome - there will be cookies and other treats, beverages and a basket raffle.
In addition to registering donors, they are raising money to pay for each registration. With lab and administration costs, each completed kit costs $100.
"We don't want anyone to pay that day, so the reason we're fundraising is so nobody has to pay for the kits," said McCaffery.
Nolan pointed out that those who can't register may also be able to help by donating blood or platelets through the Red Cross.
Shaq talks about being called bigger than life, but he says that there's no such thing when someone you love fighting is to live. Stephanie and her family, small as they are, hold on to their prayers for her and send some out to others, as well.
"This is not about Stephanie anymore," Gania said. "We're reaching out to people all over the world. But we have tremendous hope."