July is African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month, and Be The Match is working to raise awareness of a health disparity on the national blood stem cell and marrow registry that affects Black and African American patients in need of life-saving cell therapies.
Patients battling blood cancers such as leukemia or blood diseases like sickle cell disease are most likely to find a matching donor in someone who shares their heritage or ethnicity. The odds of finding a match are dependent on a patient’s ethnicity, with Black and African American patients least likely to find a matching donor. Black patients find matching donors 29% of the time compared to a 79% chance for white patients.
“We believe every patient deserves an equal chance of finding a matching donor on the Be The Match Registry,” said Erica Jensen, Senior Vice President of Member Engagement, Enrollment and Experience at Be The Match. “Many people don’t know that ethnicity is a factor in finding a matching donor, and more Black donors are needed to help save Black patients. We have powerful blood stem cells in our bodies that naturally replenish themselves and donating these cells can literally cure someone of cancer.”
Ten-year-old MJ Dixon of Killeen, Texas, is a leukemia patient searching for a matching donor. Doctors initially told Dixon’s mother Chaundra that he was suffering from growing pains when she brought the young boy, just 8 years old at the time, to see the doctor after complaints of leg pain. A month later, the boy was taken to the emergency room because he was lethargic and unable to walk.
Dixon was diagnosed with leukemia at that time. Doctors are recommending a marrow transplant as his best treatment option, but MJ doesn’t have any matching donors on the registry. So he and his mother have become advocates to encourage more Black and African Americans to swab their cheek and join the Be The Match Registry.
Dixon will be featured in a public awareness television spot called Health Watch, produced and featured on FOX 5 Atlanta, as part of Be The Match’s Cheek Week campaign from July 10-July 16. Cheek Week was launched in 2020 to help increase the diversity of the Be The Match Registry. The event combines virtual and in-person events aimed at educating and registering potential donors within the African American community. In 2022, Be The Match is hosting Cheek Week events in Atlanta and Houston in partnership with Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, Texas Children’s Hospital and others.
The process to donate is not as difficult as people imagine, and the 85 percent of time blood stem cells are donated in a nonsurgical procedure that resembles a plasma donation.
To learn more about the myths and facts of blood stem cell donation or to join the Be The Match Registry visit http://www.BeTheMatchBLK.org/cheek-week. Individuals between the ages of 18-40 years old can register online and a cheek swab kit will be mailed to the registrant’s home to complete the registration process. Registry members are only called for further testing if they are identified as a match for a patient.