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Ed Burns and Christy Turlington Join Bone-Marrow Search

Ed Burns and Christy Turlington Join Bone-Marrow Search
Christy Turlington and Ed Burns
Evan Agostini/Getty

updated 04/29/2009 at 03:00 PM EDT

originally published 04/30/2009 02:05PM

Ed Burns had just dropped off his 3-year-old son at his Manhattan school when the actor-director spotted a flier on the wall about a preschooler in need of a life-saving bone marrow transplant. "It broke my heart," the Saving Private Ryan star tells PEOPLE exclusively.

On April 6, 4-year-old Kai Anderson, who attends the same school as Burns's son, was diagnosed with the rare and aggressive Philadelphia Chromosome-Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The news was a blow to his family, especially since his father, David Anderson, was diagnosed a year ago with Mantle Cell Lymphoma – another rare and complicated form of cancer.

Young Kai's urgent need for a transplant struck Burns – especially because he's the father of two children with wife Christy Turlington: Grace, 5, and Finn, 3. "I went home and told my wife," he says. "We said, 'What can we do to help this family?' She called a friend and got more details. We wanted to do whatever we could."

The couple are doing their part by spreading the word about a donor drive for Kai on Saturday, May 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Montessori School of Manhattan on 53 Beach St. in New York City. "The Tribeca Film Festival is going on that same day, so thousands of people will be in the neighborhood," says Burns. "We're trying to get them to take a few minutes of their day to have their cheek swabbed so that they can become potential donors."

Save a Life

Burns, 41, and Turlington, 40, also plan to register. "I wasn't aware how easy it is to become a donor," he says. "And if you are a match, it's an outpatient procedure."

Donors are needed for Kai and thousands of other leukemia victims, says Katharina Harf, executive vice president of DKMS Americas, the bone-marrow donor registry, which is helping Kai and others find a match. "Very few patients have a match in their family, and the rest depend on strangers," says Harf. "Seventy percent of those patients can't find a match. Becoming a donor is a commitment, but it's your chance to save a life."

Kai's parents, Birgit and David, are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they've received from their friends and the community. "It gives us strength and hope in this difficult situation to have the help of so many people," says Birgit.

Burns says he and his wife are more than happy to help. "When you have little kids, the idea that one of them could overnight come down with an illness that could take them away from you is the most terrifying notion," he says. "It's the type of news that makes you grab your kids and recognize just how lucky you are – and do whatever you can do to help. So come on down and get swabbed and registered into the donor bank. Maybe you won't be a match for Kai, but you may end up helping someone else."

For more information about registering as a bone marrow donor, please visit the DKMS Web site.

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