OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - It just took 10 seconds.In 1995, Mike Shelton, a black college student at Langston, participated in a bone marrow registry.Fourteen years later, Oklahoma State Representative Mike Shelton got a call he never expected. “June 2009, I got called”, Shelton explains. “They said you are it.We need to see you immediately…will you do it? I didn’t even think about it.I said yes.”
According to The National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), Mike Shelton is the exception, not the rule when it comes to African-Americans and bone marrow donation. Only 7 percent of the 8 million potential donors on the national registry are African American. Fewer potential African-American donors mean fewer potential matches for African American patients seeking transplant.Consider these facts:
·Every year, more than 10,000 patients in the United States are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases for which the best option for a cure can be a bone marrow transplant
·Approximately 70 percent of patients in need of transplant do not have a matching donor in their family
·Patients are most likely to match with a donor who shares a similar racial or ethnic background, therefore making it incredibly important to diversity the registry.
·African-Americans have about 60% likelihood of finding at least one potential match on the national registry.
According to theUS Dept. of Health and Human Services-Office of Minority Health-African Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers.In an effort to tackle this disparity, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, focused on “Combating Cancer in our Communities” at the 17th Annual Black America’s Dialogue on Health last month in Indianapolis, Indiana. At this conference, Representative Mike Shelton introduced fellow legislators to Patrice Tillman of Tucson, Arizona, a mother of four who nearly died from lymphoma until she met her match.
After years of battling cancer with chemotherapy, surgery, and prayer, doctors told Patrice her only chance for a cure was a bone marrow transplant.None of her siblings were a match.After being put on the national registry she found out that there was just one donor who could help.Patrice assumed that person would back out. “I talked to family and friends.Not one black person would get on the registry”, says Tillman, who assumed a stranger wouldn’t go through with the donation.
Representative Shelton explained to his fellow legislators that the donation was non-invasive and was similar to donating plasma through an IV.The donation process took about two days, but Shelton says the few seconds it took to get on the registry is what made an impact. “It just takes 10 seconds to change a life. African-Americans are dying because we are not on the registry”, says Shelton.
“Although cancer is a chronic disease, we have proven as a nation that we can significantly reduce the effects of cancer through education and mobilization”, said Rep. Calvin Smyre (GA), NBCSL President.It is now time for all Americans to focus their attention on the disproportionate effects the disease is having on African Americans,” continued Smyre. “As a result of this year’s event our members will be empowered to return to their districts and develop initiatives that will close the diagnosis gap and help reduce the number of cancer-related deaths in our community.”
About the National Black Caucus of State Legislators
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) is a membership association representing 646 African American state legislators from 42 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. NBCSL members represent more than 50 million Americans of all racial backgrounds. NBCSL tracks legislation at all levels of government and actively monitors state and federal policy initiatives to provide its members with important information. Each year, NBCSL members pass policy resolutions that directly impact federal and state policy. The organization focuses on U.S. domestic policy and is committed to policies that positively affect all Americans.