There is a cure for cancer … and it could be you. For the thousands of people diagnosed every year with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, a cure exists: a bone marrow transplant. Seventy percent of patients in need of a marrow trans- plant do not have a matching donor in their family so they turn to the National Marrow Donor Registry: Be The Match.
Matching the tissue types of patients to donors is a complex process, far more complex than matching blood types. Because tissue types are inherited, patients are most likely to match someone with very similar ancestry. The more complex the tissue type, the more challenging it becomes to find a close enough match. In fact, between 20 and 34 percent of patients with diverse ancestry currently do not have a match on the registry. That doesn’t mean a match doesn’t exist, it simply means the potential donor hasn’t signed up yet.
The 2017 Seattle Asian American Film Festival is screening an award winning documentary, Mixed Match, that beautifully and clearly illustrates the complexity of matching patients with mixed ancestry to donors. The Festival Committee has invited Be The Match to hold registry drives at the theater so anyone who is eligible and willing to register can do so.
Be The Match is a community of millions of volunteers standing by, ready to say, “yes,” if their marrow is determined to be the best match for a patient. To join, people must meet age (18-44), health guidelines, and be willing to donate to any patient in need. Younger donors are requested by transplant doctors 90 percent of the time. Research shows that younger donors provide the greatest chance for transplant success. Registration takes just a few minutes and involves completing a con- sent form and giving a swab of cheek cells.
Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is a protein—or marker—found on most cells in your body and is used to match patients with donors. The best transplant outcomes happen when a patient’s HLA and the donor’s HLA closely match. More young people of diverse racial and ethnic heritage are needed. Be The Match focuses on adding potential donors (and cord blood units) from diverse back- grounds to the registry so that all patients in need of a transplant can receive one.
Seattle Police Sergeant Randy Yamanaka donated in 2002. “The more I thought about joining the registry, the more I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it,” Yamanaka said. “When I got the call that I was a match for an 18-month-old baby, I was really in shock. It certainly is not the kind of call you get every day and it was exciting. Be The Match asked whether they could do more tests to find out whether I was the best match and I said, ‘Certainly! Sure!’ It was just a no-brainer.
“It turns out I was the only one on the registry who could have saved that little boy, Luke. It’s hard to describe when you know there’s somebody out there who needs you and you don’t know who it is. With every step of the process, I became more invested. It was a really special day for me, the day I donated marrow.” Now Luke is a happy rough-and-tumble 16-year-old. His father writes the news of his young boy, the news Randy longed for: “Luke is cured.” This past August, Luke and his family traveled from San Diego to Seattle to visit Randy. They share a special bond.
There are two methods of donation: PBSC (peripheral blood stem cells) and bone marrow. The patient’s doctor will choose which one is best for the patient.
- PBSC donation is a non-surgical procedure. For five days leading up to donation, you will be given injections of filgrastim. Filgrastim is a medication that increases the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. On the day of donation, blood is removed through a needle on one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through the other arm.
- Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room. Doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone. Donors receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the donation.
To schedule a marrow registry drive in this area or to find out about volunteer opportunities, contact Tori Fairhurst, Be The Match Community Engagement Washington: [email protected] Learn more at www.BeTheMatch.org.