ATLANTA, March 3, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- For patients battling deadly blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma or life-threatening blood diseases like sickle cell disease or aplastic anemia, there is a cure. A blood stem cell transplant from a matching living donor can offer hope for patients battling these and 70 other deadly blood diseases. Yet, only 30 percent of patients will find a matching donor in their family. The remaining 70 percent turn to the Be The Match Registry and its database of 22 million members who are willing to step up and save the life of a complete stranger.
Despite the large number of individuals on the registry, more than 10,000 patients each year will not find a matching donor. That's the case for a 27-year-old mother from Macon, Georgia. Briana Stephens continues her decade-long search for a matching donor to help her beat aplastic anemia, a dangerous blood disorder.
Briana was diagnosed with aplastic anemia at age 10 and experiences extreme fatigue; receives frequent blood transfusions and platelet checks; attends weekly doctor's visits; and receives weekly plasma donations. A blood stem cell transplant from a matching donor is the only cure for Briana's condition. But after more than a decade of searching, she still has not found a match. She is among 400 other Georgians who are hoping Be The Match will find them a matching blood stem cell donor to cure them.
For patients like Briana, Be The Match has partnered with the Georgia General Assembly to designate Thursday, March 4, 2021, "Be The Match Day" to help raise awareness of the need for more donors on the Be The Match Registry. The campaign seeks to add 430 new donors to the Be The Match Registry – enough to save one life! That's because approximately 1 in 430 members on the registry will go on to be a life-saving donor for a patient in need.
"So many people do not realize that their blood stem cells could hold the cure for a patient battling leukemia, sickle cell disease or many other deadly blood disorders," said State Representative Gloria Frazier, who sponsored the Be The Match Day resolution. "There is no easier way to save a life – and it is so simple, just requiring a simple cheek swab to be added to the Be The Match Registry. You're only called to donate if you are identified as a match for a patient. We are specifically asking diverse communities to join the registry, because ancestry matters in finding a match, and too many patients of color do not find matching donors to save their lives."
A blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant can cure more than 70 different blood cancers or deadly blood disorders, including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease. Unfortunately, not all patients have the same likelihood of finding a matching donor. Black patients like Briana are least likely to find a match compared to patients of other races and ethnicities. Black or African American patients only have a 23 percent chance of finding a perfectly matched donor on the registry compared to a 46 percent chance for Hispanic patients and a 77 percent chance for white patients. Of the more than 22 million potential donors, only 4 percent are Black or African American and 7 percent are Hispanic.
"Race and ethnicity play an important factor in finding a matching donor because the DNA markers that we look to match are inherited, and you're more likely to match someone who has a similar ancestry," explained Erica Jensen, Senior Vice President of Member Enrollment, Engagement and Experience for Be The Match. "Be The Match is dedicated to providing all patients an equal chance at finding a match regardless of racial or ethnic background. We are grateful to the Georgia Assembly for supporting our efforts to increase the number of donors on the registry, which will help us save more patient lives in the future."
"This past year, we have recognized the importance of health in our communities, and the impact that racial disparities have on outcomes for patients," said State Senator Tonya Anderson, who is also the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman and sponsor of the resolution. "When it comes to the Be The Match Registry, each one of us can play an active role in being a part of the solution. With every person who swabs their cheek, we help the hundreds of Georgians searching for a donor, get one step closer to finding their cure."
In 1987, the United State Congress authorized the establishment of a national registry of volunteer bone marrow donors, the National Marrow Donor Program, currently named Be The Match, which has facilitated more than 100,000 transplants to date, including 6,660 last year, of which 118 patients were from Georgia.
For 80 percent of donors, the process of donating blood stem cells is non-surgical and resembles a plasma donation; the remaining 20 percent have liquid marrow withdrawn while under anesthesia in an outpatient procedure. Unfortunately, the process of donating blood stem cells or bone marrow has been wrongly depicted in Hollywood movies, leading to fear of pain for would-be donors.
To learn more about the myths and facts of blood stem cell donation or to join the Be The Match Registry visit http://www.BeTheMatchATL.org or text GeorgiaSaves to 61474. There is no cost for donors between the ages of 18-44 years old to join the Be The Match Registry. A cheek swab kit will be mailed to the registrant's home to complete the registration process and find out if they are a match for a searching patient.
About Be The Match® For people with life-threatening blood cancers—like leukemia and lymphoma—or other diseases, a cure exists. Be The Match connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. People can contribute to the cure as a member of the Be The Match Registry®, financial contributor or volunteer. Be The Match provides patients and their families one-on-one support, education, and guidance before, during and after transplant.
Be The Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), a nonprofit organization that matches patients with donors, educates health care professionals and conducts research through its research program, CIBMTR® (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research®), so more lives can be saved. To learn more about the cure, visit BeTheMatch.org or call 1 (800) MARROW-2.