MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Black History Month is a celebration of milestones led by prominent figures throughout history. But every day, African Americans are making a critical difference through their compassionate decision to join the Be The Match Registry as potential marrow donors or by donating their newborn baby's umbilical cord blood. These selfless decisions give hope to thousands of African Americans with life-threatening diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and leukemia, who need a second chance at life.
Jennifer Jones Austin is a prime example of an African American leader who deserves recognition this month, but in her case she was the one in need of a marrow donor. In September 2009, Ms. Austin, an attorney and child advocate from New York, was diagnosed with leukemia. Her best hope for a cure was a marrow or cord blood transplant to replace her diseased blood cells with healthy ones. But, like 70 percent of transplant patients, no one in her family was a genetic match. So, Jennifer's medical team searched the Be The Match Registry for a suitable donor.
The Need for African American Donors is Great
That donor search was complicated by the fact that Ms. Austin is African American. Despite the large number of potential donors already registered, many more people from diverse backgrounds need to step forward to give minority patients hope for a cure. Today, just 7 percent of Be The Match Registry members are African American.
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 - meaning if you are an African American registry member called to donate, you will most likely match an African American transplant patient. African Americans also have greater diversity within their tissue types than people of other heritage, which can make it even more difficult for patients to find a suitable match.
After learning about the challenges African Americans face, Ms. Austin became an advocate for the cause, encouraging other African Americans to join the Be The Match Registry as potential marrow donors. With tremendous support and hands-on assistance from her friends, family and the community, Ms. Austin and her husband helped organize donor registry drives across the country to recruit more people from diverse communities to join the Be The Match Registry. In just a few short months, more than 13,000 new members joined the registry because of their collective efforts, and more than 80 percent were from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Umbilical Cord Blood is Expanding Transplant Opportunities
Fortunately, Ms. Austin's doctors found a suitable match for her on the Be The Match Registry, and this month she is celebrating her one-year cord blood transplant anniversary. Operated by the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), the Be The Match Registry is the world's largest registry, providing patients with access to 9 million potential donors and more than 185,000 units of umbilical cord blood, which also can be used for transplants. Ms. Austin received a transplant using cord blood from a newborn whose mother had generously decided to make the donation.
Donating cord blood is safe and easy for both the mother and child. Cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord immediately after a baby is born. The young cells in cord blood easily adapt after a transplant, so they don't have to match the patient's tissue type as closely as adult marrow donations. This relatively new source of healthy blood cells has expanded transplant opportunities within diverse communities that face great challenges finding suitable donor matches.
Along with cord blood, marrow and peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) are rich sources of blood-forming cells. During marrow donation, doctors extract marrow from the donor's hip bone. The donation process is a surgical procedure performed in a hospital and requires local or general anesthesia. A doctor requests this process only 24 percent of the time.
Unlike marrow donation, PBSCs are collected from a donor in an outpatient clinic and the procedure requires no anesthesia. Through a needle in one arm, the donation is collected by an apheresis machine which removes the blood, separates out the blood-forming cells, and returns the remaining blood into the donor's other arm. Today, 76 percent of transplants are PBSC donations.
This Black History Month, join other African Americans who have made the life-saving decision to join the Be The Match Registry and donate when called.
People between the ages of 18 and 60 are eligible to join the registry and must complete a health history form and give a swab of cheek cells, which determine tissue types. Contributions to Be The Match Foundation help cover the costs to add more members to the Be The Match Registry, giving more patients hope for a cure. Those joining the registry are asked to give what they can by visiting BeTheMatchFoundation.org to make a contribution.
During the month of February, for every person who joins the Be The Match Registry as a potential marrow donor via www.nordstrom.com/bhm, Nordstrom will contribute $100 to Be The Match Foundation to help cover the cost of adding a new member to the registry, up to $75,000.
About Be The Match
Be The Match is a movement that engages a growing community of people inspired to help patients who need a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor. The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), a leader in the field of marrow and cord blood transplantation, created Be The Match to provide opportunities for the public to become involved in saving the lives of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases. Volunteers can join the Be The Match Registry Â the world's largest and most diverse listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units - as well as contribute financially to Be The Match Foundation or give their time.