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JOHNSON CITY — Andrew Dover has been fighting leukemia since April. In order to beat it, he needs a bone marrow transplant, but a bone marrow match has been tough to come by because Dover is black.
“They said it’s a 25 percent chance that I’ll find a match,” Dover said.
Blacks make up just 8 percent of the national marrow registry, but officials with the National Marrow Donor Program are working to change that figure. The Cooperative Appalachian Marrow Program will hold a donor registration drive Saturday at Carver Recreation Center in Johnson City on behalf of Dover, with a goal of reaching as many minority donors as possible.
“We’re still looking for diversity in the registry. If you’re a minority or mixed race, you just don’t have the chance that the Caucasian patients have,” said Linda Hilton, co-coordinator for the Cooperative Appalachian Marrow Program. “We do a drive on behalf of an individual because it does show that there’s a need, even in our own community.”
Individuals who register at Saturday’s event will be entered into the national registry to help any of the 10,000 people who must look for a transplant match outside their own family each year. Because tissue type is inherited genetically, a patient is most likely to find a match within his or her own ethnic group.
Patients like Dover have a hard time finding matches not only because there are so few blacks in the registry, but also because there is much genetic diversity within the black community itself. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, “Those who migrated out of Africa have gone to many places all over the globe. As a result, African-Americans are 50 percent more genetically diverse than those of European-American heritage.”
Myths about bone marrow donation and transplantation are common and frequently keep eligible donors from entering the registry. Some people don’t realize that the only thing required to enter the registry is a cheek swab. “We do cheek swabs to get the DNA testing that we need,” Hilton said. That information is stored in the National Marrow Donor Program Registry until a match is found. The DNA information obtained from potential donors is kept under strict security and is not shared with any other agency, Hilton said. Some people fear that the donation process is painful, but Hilton pointed out that when bone marrow is extracted from the donor’s hip bone, the donor is under general anesthesia and feels no pain. There is often residual soreness in the lower back and hip area afterward, but the donor is usually able to return to work within a week.
All symptoms usually disappear within three weeks, and the healthy bone marrow grows back within four to six weeks. Some people do not enter the registry simply because they don’t think there is actually a need for donors. This could not be further from the truth, Hilton said. Although some patients are able to find bone marrow matches within their own families, 70 percent do not have a family match and must rely on the registry.
Saturday’s bone marrow registry drive is sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. The event will last from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. For more information visit www.bethematch.org or call (866) 680-0137.