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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, April 18, 2008

African American Bone Marrow Donors Needed

Wolfrum at Shakespeare's Sister posts a call for more more bone marrow donors, particularly African American donors.  He writes,

When I recovered from the shock of learning that my Mom had acute myeloid Leukemia, I set to work on learning more about it, and trying to find what part I could play.  It was evident early on that my Mom would need a bone marrow transplant to survive more than one or two years. AML is a vicious disease that can only be repressed by intense chemotherapy. It comes back, and the chemo treatments quickly lose potency. So I saw the part I would play, and knew it would be a lifetime endeavor.

With the help of Pat Conlee of the National Marrow Donor Program, I began to learn about the bone marrow registry. I worked with Conlee, my Father and friends and family to put together a bone marrow drive for my mother in Victorville, Calif. But I knew that was not to be a one-time effort, and that the NMDP needed help from wherever it could find it.  As I learned about the NMDP, one fact struck me extremely hard. For Caucasians in need of a bone marrow transplant, 88 percent find a suitable donor. For African-Americans, that number tumbles to 60 percent. . . .

According to the NMDP, there are just 11 million people on the bone marrow donor registry. And that's not in the U.S. That's in the world. In the U.S., there are five million white people on the registry. There are 500,000 blacks. There lies the difference between the 88 percent and 60 percent figures . . . .

To put a face to issue, let me point to my friend Emru Townsend. In December, Townsend - of Montreal - was told that he had AML, as well as a disorder called monosomy 7. He was told he needed a bone marrow transplant to survive. He was also told that due to his African-Caribbean heritage, his chances of finding a donor were much less than if he were white.

But Townsend did not waste his time with self-pity. He immediately began to champion the cause, and his efforts to get more blacks on Canada's bone marrow registry have been covered in newspapers, radio and on television. He is a true inspiration, going so far as spending days working to get his message out while he is receiving chemotherapy. And he is still without a matching donor. His site - HealEmru.com - tells his story and has valuable information on how one can get on the bone marrow registry . . . .

In the U.S., one of the reasons for the lack of donors of all races is likely the cost. It costs $52 to get on the registry, but that amount falls to $25 for African-Americans due to the need. But even if an African-American doesn't have a dime to spare, if they want to get on the registry, they will not be turned away. But this is why donations are always eagerly accepted by the NMDP to help defray the costs of the tissue typing necessary.

The process for donating is simple - all it takes is a few swaps from a person's inner cheek, filling out some paperwork, and it's done. If you are called as a potential match, you will be given a battery of tests (free of charge) that will see if you are in good health and able to donate. The donating process consists of taking some marrow from your spine (under local anesthesia) and does not entail an overnight stay in a hospital. Generally, some minor discomfort for a day or two is the full price that has to be paid for saving a life. . . . .

Wolfrum's piece provides a list of helpful weblinks as well.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/healthlawprof_blog/2008/04/bone-marrow-don.html

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