Blood Diseases

African-Americans Have Low Chance of Finding Bone Marrow Match

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Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins rose to fame as an actress, singer and member of the popular 90s musical group TLC - all while quietly battling sickle cell disease. Now, she is lending her famous voice to encourage people, especially those in the African American community, to join the Be The Match Registry® as potential bone marrow donors and help others - like 11-year-old Imani Cornelius - fight similar life-threatening diseases.

 

Dispeling myths about bone marrow donation

 

"As a person with sickle cell disease and an advocate for everyone fighting this disease, I was naturally drawn to Be The Match," Watkins said. "Unfortunately, myths about bone marrow donation keep many people from joining the Be The Match Registry and potentially saving a life. That is why I am passionate about encouraging everyone to learn the facts about bone marrow donation through these PSAs. We need more African Americans to step up."

A bone marrow transplant can be a cure for someone with sickle cell disease or other illnesses like leukemia and lymphoma. Most patients who need transplants do not have a match in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find a match.

African Americans have a harder time finding a match

But many African Americans and other minorities can't find marrow donors - like Imani Cornelius, of Minneapolis. Imani was recently diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and her only hope for a cure is a bone marrow transplant. Her doctors continue to search the Be The Match Registry for a matching donor, but that search has not been easy as Imani is biracial.

Right now, the chance of finding a match on the Be The Match Registry is close to 93 percent for Caucasians, but for African Americans and other minorities, the chances can be as low as 66 percent.

The tissue types used for matching patients with donors are inherited, so patients are most likely to find a match within their own racial or ethnic heritage. There are 9 million people on the Be The Match Registry, but only 7 percent are African American.

Donor Jonathan Nazeer says "donating is life-changing"

Jonathan Nazeer, of Greensboro, N.C., saw firsthand the need for more African American donors when his friend was searching for a match. Jonathan joined the registry in 2006 on her behalf. Just a few years later he was called to donate to a 52-year-old woman battling a rare disease.

"Donating is life-changing, not only for the individual who is receiving the transplant, but even for you. To know that you may have played a small part in actually saving someone's life is extremely fulfilling," said Nazeer, who was recently contacted again as a match for an 18-year-old boy.

While the number of transplants that the NMDP facilitates for African American patients has doubled since 2004, more people of African American descent are urgently needed on the Be The Match Registry so that more lives can be saved.

"We have made great strides in expanding the number of patients and the range of diseases that can be treated with bone marrow transplants," said Jeffrey W. Chell, M.D., chief executive officer of the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), which operates the Be The Match Registry. "But we need more volunteers - from every ethnic and racial background - to meet the ultimate challenge of helping every patient find a life-saving donor."

 

Myths & Facts about Bone Marrow Donation

Learn the facts about bone marrow donation to help you make an informed decision about joining the Be The Match Registry®.

MYTH:
All bone marrow donations involve surgery.
FACT:
The majority of donations do not involve surgery. Today, the patient's doctor most often requests a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is non-surgical.
The second way of donating is marrow donation, which is a surgical procedure.
In each case, donors typically go home the same day they donate.

MYTH:
Donating is painful and involves a long recovery.
FACT:
There can be uncomfortable but short-lived side effects of donating PBSC. Due to taking a drug called filgrastim for five days leading up to donation, PBSC donors may have headaches, joint or muscle aches, or fatigue. PBSC donors are typically back to their normal routine in one to two days.
Those donating marrow receive general or regional anesthesia, so they feel no pain during donation. Marrow donors can expect to feel some soreness in their lower back for one to two weeks afterward. Most marrow donors are back to their normal activities in two to seven days.

MYTH:
Donating is dangerous and weakens the donor.
FACT:
Though no medical procedure is without risk, there are rarely any long-term side effects. Be The Match® carefully prescreens all donors to ensure they are healthy and the procedure is safe for them. We also provide support and information every step of the way.
Because only five percent or less of a donor's marrow is needed to save the patient's life, the donor's immune system stays strong and the cells replace themselves within four to six weeks.

MYTH:
In bone marrow donation, pieces of bone are removed from the donor.
FACT:
No pieces of bone are taken during marrow donation. Only the liquid marrow found inside the pelvic bone is needed to save the patient's life.

MYTH:
Donors have to pay to donate.
FACT:
Donors never pay to donate. We reimburse travel costs and may reimburse other costs on a case-by-case basis.

 

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