Eleven-year-old Valaria Fenderson of Atlanta is quietly fighting for life while waiting for the bone marrow transplant that could cure her sickle cell anemia. Her battle against this inherited blood disorder — which most often strikes Africans and African Americans — has kept her in pain and taken her in and out of hospitals for most of her young life.
Today, a bone marrow transplant is Valaria’s only hope for a cure, but like many African Americans who need transplants, she doesn’t have a matched bone marrow donor.
Patients usually find a suitable donor in someone with a similar ethnic background. But just 7 percent of the nation’s 10 million registered potential bone marrow donors are African American. Be The Match(R) aims to improve this number through a national awareness campaign this July, which is African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month.
Registry events nationwide will encourage more African Americans to step forward and join the Be The Match Registry(R). It’s the world’s largest listing of potential bone marrow donors, who hold the potential of a cure for patients like Valaria who have sickle cell anemia or life-threatening blood cancers.
Online, people will be asked to visit SWABplusDNA.org to learn the facts about donation. That’s because myths about bone marrow donation keep many people from joining the Be The Match Registry and potentially saving a life.
As part of the campaign, Ryan Carter, a 20-year-old football player for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is sharing his donation experience to help address common misperceptions, like donating is painful or that people have to pay to donate. Carter donated bone marrow to a 5-year-old boy with leukemia early this year.
“I joined the Be The Match Registry because I found out about the huge need for more minority bone marrow donors, and I worked with my UMass teammates to recruit more people,” Carter said. “Then when I was called to donate months later, it became real — I could save a life.”
Since 2004, the number of transplants among African Americans facilitated by Be The Match has doubled. Still, for patients with ethnically diverse backgrounds, the likelihood of finding a match can be as low as 66 percent, versus 93 percent for Caucasians.
“Be The Match has achieved some incredible milestones over the past 25 years, recently reaching 50,000 transplants facilitated and 10 million registry members. But our ultimate goal is to provide a matching donor for every patient who needs one,” said Jeffrey W. Chell, M.D., chief executive officer of the National Marrow Donor Program(R) (NMDP), which operates Be The Match. “The only way we can accomplish this is by increasing the ethnic diversity on the Be The Match Registry. We need more committed minority donors to save more lives.”
For more information about how to join the Be The Match Registry, visit www.SwabPlusDNA.org . People can also text the words “DNA” to 50555 to contribute $10, which helps cover the costs of adding people to the marrow registry.