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July is African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month

Be the match, donors encouraged to join the registry during African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month

7/28/2020, 9:52 p.m.

PRNewswire - Black or African-American patients only have a 23% chance of finding a match compared to a 77% chance for White patients.

For too long, the Black/African-American community has sought a cure for sickle cell anemia, leukemia and other blood cancers. Well, there is a cure —a blood stem cell transplant from a genetically matched donor of a similar ethnic background. Yet of the 22 million potential donors on the Be The Match Registry, only 4% are Black or African-American.

One such patient that is in need is 10-year-old Ava of Snellville, Ga., who had her first pain crisis from sickle cell disease when she was just 5 months old. Over the past decade, she has been hospitalized over 70 times, and has had her spleen, adenoids, tonsils and gall bladder removed as a result of complications from sickle cell disease. A blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant from a perfectly matched donor is the only cure for sickle cell disease, but Ava does not have a compatible match in her family or on the Be The Match Registry.

Donors who have stepped up to the plate are encouraging others to do so. Tunisia Thorne, an Atlanta realtor, mom and wife who loves to volunteer, joined the registry in 1999 in San Diego by simply swabbing her cheek. Thorne got the call 18 years later, in 2017, that she was a perfect match. Thorne's donation saved a 27-year old young man with leukemia.

"This is the epitome of Black lives matter," said Thorne. "It is so very simple. It doesn't take anything away from you, and it gives something so beautiful: life."

Richard Stewart, an athletic trainer for Georgia Tech, swabbed at an athletic training convention in 2018. He didn't think much about it, just heard there was a need and thought, "Why not?" Just four months later he got the call saying he was a potential match. He donated in January 2019.

"The whole process was phenomenal. The actual donation day was the same way, people treat you like a hero, even though I don't consider myself a hero," Stewart said. "I would do it again in a heartbeat, and would encourage others to do so." Stewart's donation saved a 63-year-old woman with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Like 80% of donors, Thorne and Stewart both donated through Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation, a nonsurgical process similar to donating plasma.

"We are asking for Black Atlantans, particularly during African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month, to help those in our community who are suffering from blood cancers and sickle cell," said Xavier Brandon, Be The Match representative. "You will only be asked to donate if you are identified as a perfect match for a patient in need – some people receive the call in months, others after several years and many are never called to donate. But it only takes a simple cheek swab to increase the odds of a patient finding their perfect match. You can provide hope for people fighting for their lives."

To find out more information about how to join the registry visit: https://www.bethematchatl.org.