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Why more South Asian bone marrow donors are needed

By Dr. Gulshan Harjee Email By Dr. Gulshan Harjee
August 2011
Why more South Asian bone marrow donors are needed Bone marrow donations can save lives, but there is a particular shortage of donors among South Asians. Myths about marrow donation often stop us from signing up, but registering to become a donor, and even donating itself, can be quite simple, explains DR. GULSHAN HARJEE.

Every year, more than 10,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma, and their best or only hope of a cure is a transplant from an unrelated bone marrow donor or from cord blood unit. These patients depend on a national bone marrow registry called Be The Match Registry to find a match that can help give them a second chance at life.

Bone marrow matches are more likely from within the patient’s own race or ethnicity. The challenge to find a matching donor is greatest among racially and ethnically diverse communities such as ours. Only 17,000 of the nine million members on the registry are South Asian. The chances of Caucasians finding a match on the Be The Match Registry is 93 percent, but for minorities, the chances can be as low as 66 percent.

With more people of diverse heritages on the registry, more lives can be saved. Every person who volunteers to become a donor has the chance to save a life.

The first step to becoming a marrow donor is to join the Registry. Myths about marrow donation often prevent people from signing up. But the majority of donations today do not require surgery. Even when surgery is involved, recovery isn’t long, and donors usually go home the same day. Most donors say they would do it again to save a life.

What must you do to join the bone marrow registry?
You can join the registry in person at a donor drive or online at BeTheMatch.org. To join, people need to be between the ages of 18 and 60, complete a health history form, be willing to donate to any patient in need, and meet health guidelines.

If you’re called as a potential match for a patient, you will be asked to give a cheek swab sample or blood sample to confirm that you are indeed the best possible match. Donors can also attend an information session to learn more.

What does a bone marrow donation involve?

There are two ways to donate. Most donations do not involve surgery. About 76 percent of the time, the patient’s doctor requests a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure. If the patient’s doctor requests marrow (about 24 percent of the time), the donation process is a surgical procedure performed in a hospital. General or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure. The doctor decides which method is best for a patient.

Thankfully, over the past four years, the South Asian community has responded to the call for more potential donors—and the number of South Asians on the Registry has increased by more than 40 percent. But more donors are certainly needed.

If you’d like to know more about marrow donations, please come to the Be The Match Registry booth at the Festival of India at the Gwinnett Civic Center on Sunday, August 7th, 2011. Or visit www.marrow.org .

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