Critical need for Hispanic, minority bone marrow donors

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by Jason Whitely / WFAA.com

WFAA.com

Posted on May 24, 2014 at 1:30 PM

Updated Saturday, May 24 at 1:47 PM

DALLAS — Hispanics, African Americans and Asians have a more difficult time of getting a bone marrow transplant because the national database of potential donors doesn’t include many minorities.

But, an effort is underway over the Memorial Day weekend to increase the number of minority donors.

Jose Barrera is among the thousands suffering from a blood cancer – specifically Chronic Myeloid Leukemia – but he never showed a symptom of it.

"Your body flushes out the white blood cells in your body," Barrera explained. "But with me, the dead ones were just staying in my blood stream and they were overcrowding and that's when you develop cancerous cells."

Barrera, 22, works weekends at Sherlock's Baker Street Pub on Park Lane and studies accounting at the University of North Texas.

Doctors discovered his CML during a routine eye exam at Wal-Mart last September. Fortunately, he said, it’s the most curable.

Medicine has brought his white blood cell count back down to normal levels, but he might need a bone marrow transplant in the future.

Finding a genetic match, though, could prove difficult. Only 40 percent of all patients ever find a matching donor, and Barrera would likely have an even harder time because he's Hispanic.
The national donor database isn't very diverse. Hispanics only make up three percent of it and disease doesn't discriminate.

Whites make up 67 percent of the national database. Hispanics, African Americans and Asians each make up less than 10 percent respectively.

"The need is critical for everybody," said Amy Roseman, a donor recruiter. "But because Hispanics are so underrepresented in the database it is critical [for] patients like Jose. And Jose is not the only one right now. There are 18,000 patients searching for donors."

Barrera’s employer, Sherlock’s Baker Street Pub at North Central Expressway and Park Lane, is hosting a drive to register new donors between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday.

Registering only requires a mouth swab, Roseman added.

"I think the biggest problem is people don't realize how easy it is to join the database," she said. "It's very easy. It takes about three minutes. Your bone marrow and your stem cells regenerate so you're not giving anything up that isn't going to be replaced by your own body."

"Since we're only at three percent, what really can go wrong?” Barrera asked. “At worst, you're not a match. At best, you save a life."

Register to become a stem cell or bone marrow donor by clicking here.

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