Saturday, July 31, 2010

Be the Match

I don't have cable or tv antennas, so I get most of my news from podcasts.  One of the ones I subscribe to is NPR's Story of the Day.  I listen to it while I get ready for work, and a few days ago I heard a particularly intriguing story about bone marrow donations and what happens to the people who don't have a readily available match.  In particular, non-whites.  The story cited that because African American people tend to have a particularly diverse ethnic makeup, it's often harder to find a donor if no direct relatives are a suitable match.  As such, the Black community is less likely to receive life-saving treatments for leukemia and other related diseases than Caucasians.

It gave me pause.  Cancer has affected more than its fair share of members of both sides of my family.  I am also an American of the African and Mexican variety, with dashes of Native American Indian and a pinch of European (Spanish, specifically) peppered in.  I have two living biological parents and a half brother.  But what if I developed leukemia, needed bone marrow, and none of those three people were a match?  And if they weren't, even in my vast family network, there might not be a match in there either.  You can have all the family members in the world and not find a donor match.  Tissue types are inherited, and you're more likely to match a member of your own race or ethnicity, which is why doctors start there.   When those options are exhausted, they turn to donor registries.

After listening to the story, I made a mental note to myself to look into it.  That evening I punched in "bone marrow registry" and Be The Match came up first in my search.

Swabbed up and ready to go!  Don't let the biohazard sticker scare you...
They can explain who they are and what they do much more thoroughly than I can, but basically, you can register online and they will send you a Buccal Swab Kit.  That's where you swab the inside of your cheek.  You mail it back.  Done.  Donations are encouraged to help with processing costs, so I gave some money.  (You don't have to, though.)  I received my kit yesterday and swabbed it up this morning.  It took less than 10 minutes.

I urge you to consider registering to become a bone marrow donor.  Should you be a match for somebody, advances in medicine have made marrow extraction a far less invasive and painful procedure than in days past.  Admittedly, this was a concern of mine, thanks to my perception from movies, books, and word of mouth.

In particular, I urge you to register if you are in any of the following ethnic groups because they are the most in need:

  • Black or African American
  • American Indian
  • Asian, including South Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Multiple race

I could go into speculations about why these ethnic groups are so lacking in available donors compared to Caucasian people (distrust of "the man", "the system", etc.), but really, that's unimportant.  What is important is that this is fast, easy, and has the potential to save a life.  Period.

For more information, the link to the National Marrow Donor Program is or you can call 1 (800) 654-1247.