Bone marrow drive to be held

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

MEDICINE: Bone marrow drive to be held

Drew Health Foundation hosting April 25 event in East Palo Alto

"You would never know he was a sick child," said Richelle Nash of her son Richie. "It was unbelievable to look at him and think of him as sick. He carried himself so beautifully."

Six-year-old Richie Nash of Menlo Park was a typical boy, happy and full of energy. He loved going to school. His favorite sports were baseball and football. In February, Richie lost his three-year battle with leukemia and died.

About 125,000 people are suffering from leukemia in the United States this year, according to the Leukemia Society of America.

Of those, about 21,000 will die this year. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells that originates in the bone marrow. Often, the marrow is unable to produce healthy red and white blood cells and platelets. One of the main treatments used today is bone marrow transplantation. However, thousands of leukemia patients are minority adults and children, like Richie, who could have been cured through a bone marrow transplant but no match was found.

Richie needed a matching donor from his own ethnic group, however, only 40 percent of all registered bone marrow donors nationwide are members of minorities.

To combat the shortage, Drew Health Foundation of East Palo Alto, in conjunction with the Judie Davis Foundation of Oakland, will be conducting a bone marrow drive Saturday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to register potential bone marrow donors. Members of minorities in good health between the ages of 18 and 60 are encouraged to register.

Because the characteristics of each person's bone marrow are inherited, a likely donor is a person from a similar ethnic background. A patient in need of a marrow transplant first looks within his/her own family. Unfortunately, according to the Drew Health Foundation, only about 30 percent of patients are able to find a match this way. The next step is to search for an unrelated donor through a national register administered by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).

"All minorities have a need," said Dr. Jesse Joplin, medical director for Drew Health Foundation. "The disease affects all races and we need donors from all ethnic backgrounds."

He added that there is a definite shortage of registered minority donors and that the likelihood of finding matches for minority patients is very low.

According to statistics from the Judie Davis Foundation, the number of registered donors is approximately 3 million. Of these, about 60 percent are Caucasian, eight percent are African-American, seven percent are Latino/Hispanic, seven percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and only one percent are Native-American. About 19.5 percent of the registered donors are classified as other or unknown racial identities.

Joplin hopes that by educating the community on the lifesaving benefits of becoming a registered donor, more minorities will register and increase the likelihood that matches would be found for minority patients.

The process to register as a donor is simple. A small amount of blood will be taken and sent to a laboratory for tissue typing and added to the pool of potential donors administered by the NMDP. Should a patient be found who matches, the donor would be contacted. This would begin the process that includes confirming the match through additional blood testing, counseling, a medical examination and making the decision to donate.

This will be the first donor drive held by Drew Health Foundation but the need for donors, especially minorities, is ongoing. They plan to request support from communities and corporations as well as hold additional drives in the future. Drew Health Foundation is located at 2111 University Ave. For more information about becoming a registered donor, contact Drew Health Foundation (650) 833-5247 or the American Red Cross (800)26-BLOOD.

--Kimberley Lovato 

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