I have two blood disorders that could kill me. But I don’t hope for a cure. I don’t want others to hope for a cure, either.
Why’s that? Because my potential cure is already here. It’s a bone marrow transplant.
Give me new marrow and I have a great chance to lead a long and fulfilling life. Give me new marrow and watch me graduate from N.C. Central University and go on to dance, act, write and contribute in untold ways to our state’s future.
The problem is, I can’t find a marrow donor, someone whose genetic profile matches mine. No one in my family is a match. No one on the national Be The Match Registry of potential marrow donors is a match.
So here I am doing all I can to get people to join the Be The Match Registry, the database of people willing to donate marrow to someone in need. Someone who joins the registry today could save my life tomorrow.
But know what’s making my job harder? What’s reducing my chances of finding a life-saving donor?
Myths. Misperceptions. Bad information.
A lot of people don’t understand what it means to join the registry. They don’t know how important it is. And a lot of people harbor misperceptions about the process of donating bone marrow.
It’s easy to join the registry. Potential donors fill out a form and get their cheeks swabbed. That’s it. There are many donor recruitment centers or nearby registry drives. There is even a do-it-yourself kit from BeTheMatch.org.
Donors then will be added to the Be The Match Registry. Doctors all over the world search the database every day, looking for matching donors for the thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.
If a donor is a match for someone in need, donating marrow is not as scary as some may think. In most cases, the donation is made during a nonsurgical, out-patient procedure that’s similar to having plasma taken from your blood. And it won’t cost anything. Expenses will be covered.
Here’s another thing it’s important to know: Race is an important consideration. The fact is, my chances of finding a matching donor on the Be The Match Registry are lower because I’m black. Same goes if I were Asian or Hispanic. That’s because not enough people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds have joined the registry. Get this: The chance of a black person finding a matching donor on the registry is 66 percent. For a white person it’s 93 percent.
That’s not right. And we can fix this. Anyone who is 18 to 44 years old, especially those from diverse backgrounds, should learn more about the registry and consider joining. And people of all ages should consider supporting Be The Match, which helps cover the costs of adding people to the registry.
I’ve got a big personal stake in all this, but I’m certainly not alone. Every year, about 12,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening blood diseases for which a marrow transplant offers their best shot at a cure.
In North Carolina alone, according to Be The Match, there are nearly 240 people who need a marrow transplant but can’t find a matching donor.
I’m one of those people. I know there is a potential cure out there for me – a life-saving marrow donor. We all have to work together to find this person.
I don’t need hope. I need action.
Sheldon Mba, 19, is a student at N.C. Central University in Durham.