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Ed Hoovler understands the importance of saving a life. And why shouldn't he? Since 1983, the retired carpenter from Gainesville, Fla., has donated 86 pints of blood; he's registered with the National Marrow Donor Program and his organs and tissues will be donated when he dies. But don't bother telling Hoovler that his selflessness is out of the ordinary -- he doesn't buy it. And don't remind him that biking from Maine to Florida must be inconvenient -- he'll tell you it's well worth it. Hoovler and 11 other cyclists, whose mission it is to raise awareness about lifesaving donations, visited the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia yesterday to celebrate the University's first bone marrow transplant program. They were joined by more than a dozen children -- some have already received marrow transplants, others are still waiting -- and their families, as well as several dozen doctors, physical therapists, transplant recipients and other hospital staff members at the public event, "Party for Life." "When we began this ride [in Bar Harbor, Maine], we came as strangers with a lot of anxiety," Hoovler explained. "That first night we had a meeting and we made a commitment that we would ride as a team. We can't leave anyone behind. This is not a race. We are a team." Taking part in the "Five Points of Life Ride," the cyclists are journeying for seven weeks touting what they call the "five points of life": whole blood donation; apheresis, which allows a variety of uses from one blood donation; cord blood, which is taken from umbilical cords at birth; marrow and blood stem cell donation; and organ and tissue donation. Each of the 12 cyclists has his or her own story pertaining to one of the five points. Following the ride, several dozen people participated in the bone marrow drive, which took place at the Founder's Building in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The group rode west from City Hall yesterday with a group of local people with a vested interest in donations. They included: Gwen Foster, the mayoral-appointed Philadelphia health and fitness "czar," Steven Altschuler, the president and chief executive officer of CHOP and Karen and Wesley Roberts, whose son, Gary, received a heart transplant in 1993. Another team cyclist, Rodney Ford, explained that his goal was to raise awareness in the African-American community. "Usually African Americans need a donor that is also African American, but because many don't donate, their chances are slim," explained Ford, who lives in Oklahoma City. One woman at the bone marrow drive was Dawn Lavelle, from nearby Scranton. She too is an advocate of marrow donation: Her husband received a transplant in May after fighting leukemia. She'll be the first to admit that her husband's story is a lucky one, as he only had to wait three months for a donor who, incidentally, was not a family member. "That is why I am here," Lavelle said. "If I can help someone else, it is the least I can do." The emotionally charged ceremony also featured the stories of donor recipients. One mother talked about her 18-month-old daughter, Rachel, who just received a new liver this summer. Also attending the function were Philadelphia Eagles Duce Staley and Brian Mitchell, who -- along with other cyclists and Eagles mascot Swoop -- visited with some of the patients, signed autographs and shared stories about overcoming adversity.

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