Patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma often go through an arduous search when finding someone who is a match to give bone marrow or cord blood for a transplant.
That search is even more complex for the Native American population, as only one percent of the millions in the Be the Match marrow and cord blood registry are a possible DNA match for someone with American Indian ancestry.
According to Gwen Locklear, American Indian Bone Marrow Drive coordinator, a registry drive will be held Sept. 10 at the Coharie Tribe Pow Wow as part of the health fair. Those interested in registering to be a part of Be the Match can come out between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. to the tribal center.
“This drive is open to everybody, but targeted for the American Indians,” Locklear shared.
Bone marrow and cord blood are matched by DNA, rather than blood. For that reason, Locklear said it was important for those who have a Native American ancestry to come out and register to be a donor.
“The more races a person is made of, the more likely they are to be a match,” Locklear added.
There are millions of names in the registry, but only one percent of those names are a potential match for someone of American Indian decent. Leading the registry are Caucasians, with 61 percent of the registry or 7.6 million people.
“The likelihood of finding a match for someone who is Native American is slim,” Locklear said.
Be the Match is the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on saving lives through marrow and umbilical cord blood transplantation.
The process for registering is simple and quick, according to Locklear. In all, registering will take about 10 minutes and only involves completing paperwork and a few quick swabs inside the mouth.
There are stipulations that must be met before registry is considered. Someone interested in donating must be between 18-44 years of age to register at no charge. Those between the ages of 45-60 can register, but must pay a minimal fee.
“As we age, our blood stem cells do not reproduce as quickly as they do when we are younger,” Locklear said. “For that reason, it is harder on someone to be a donor after they turn 45 years old.”
Those who have been diagnosed and treated for cancer are not eligible for donation, as well there are height and weight restrictions.
“Many people say they want to get on the registry, but often have second thoughts when the time comes to take the next step in the donation process,” Locklear added. “Donating is a commitment and if someone decides to back out, it can let the patient down.”
While there is no cost or travel involved with being a donor, Locklear said the total donation process takes about 30 hours of time — over several days.
“All of the donating is done locally,” Locklear said.
Locklear’s passion for coordinating the American Indian bone marrow drives comes from her own personal commitment she made more than 20 years ago. As a donor on the registry since 1993, Locklear said she was notified that she was about to age out and wanted to make sure more Native Americans were on the list.
In that time, she has traveled across the state to different pow wows trying to reach out to the Native American people.
“Our numbers are so small,” Locklear attested. “I want to get our local natives on the registry so they can help save the lives or our people one day.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.