Marrow donors are still scarce among minorities
For people with life-threatening blood cancers – like leukemia and lymphoma – or other diseases, a cure exists. That cure can be found through a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. Unfortunately, the best chance to find a match between patient and donor is typically only found between ones own ancestry. That fact has caused organizations such as Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, to continue to urge minorities to participate in marrow donation programs.
According to Jeffrey W. Chell, M.D., CEO Be The Match, “there simply aren’t enough members of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match.”
Statistics show that next to African Americans, Hispanics are the least likely race or ethnicity to find a donor match. That said, Hispanics do have an 83 percent likelihood of finding a match, but that leaves 17 percent that still need a donor – a high enough population to lead Be The Match to continue to emphasize the need for minority donor.
“We usually aim to gather donors who are between the ages of 18 and 44,” said Be The Match Southwest representative Anita Gonzales in a statement. “However, in that range we aim to gather the minorities. There is an increasingly low amount of minorities in our registry.”
The National Marrow Donor Program estimates that 75 percent of registered donors are Caucasian making the remaining 25 percent of Hispanic, African American and Asian decent.
“In some cases it can take eight to nine years to find an actual Hispanic minority DNA match,” Gonzales said. “When it comes to donating and surgical procedures, the majority of minorities will only help their direct families, not the life of a complete stranger. We really try to educate and bring awareness to these minorities, because it can help save the life of another person.”
A story to inspire
Over 20 years ago Vivian Herrera registered with Be The Match in hopes to help a family member who had been diagnosed with leukemia. She didn’t hear back, so she assumed she wasn’t a match. Flash forward to January 2017. Herrera’s parents receive a call from Be The Match saying that their daughter might be a possible match for a 3-year-old boy.
“The gentleman I spoke with said that I was still in the Be The Match registry and that I could save [the boy’s] life,” said Herrera who works at the New Mexico Human Services Department and has three healthy children and two grandchildren. “[He asked] if I wanted to proceed with this and I responded with ‘absolutely.’”
Two months after sending her blood work in for evaluation, Herrera heard back from Maria at Be The Match who said her blood work had been approved and the harvest date was set for April 24. But then things got complicated.
“Maria reached out to me and said that the baby boy couldn’t wait that long and we needed to move the dates up and I said that was fine,” Herrera said. “She informed me that the physical would be February 28 in San Jose, Calif., and that the harvest would take place on March 21.”
The harvest, she added, was going to be of bone marrow because it “takes effect quicker and the baby boy [was] in need.”
The procedure was successful, though Herrera won’t know the status of the recipient because it can take up to 45 days post-procedure to determine the health status of the patient.
“I don’t know what it would do to me as a parent if to go through something like this,” Herrera said of the boy and his family. “I feel that my Lord Jesus has placed me in this little boy’s path for a reason and that reason being that I could help save his precious life and give his parents the miracle they have been waiting for.”
To register as a donor with the National Marrow Donor Program visit www.bethematch.org.