Be the Match, Save a Life

Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
Be the Match, Save a Life

image by: The Peabody Awards

Patients from mixed or non-Caucasian backgrounds may not get the life-saving bone marrow transplants they need because there is no match for them in the donor registries. Are you the match?

Robin Roberts, GMA anchor has partnered with Be The Match and Stand Up To Cancer to create a public service campaign about bone marrow donation and blood cancers. Realizing how lucky she was to find a match, Roberts has made it her mission to help raise awareness about the need for every person to register as a potential bone marrow donor so that every patient has the chance of finding one as well. 

As a part of the campaign, Roberts filmed two PSA’s called “I Beat Cancer. Twice” and “Focus on the Fight. Not The Fright.” Both PSA’s discuss the issues most important to patients who are battling blood cancers: the need for more cutting-edge research and the lack of bone marrow donors.

Roberts said the decision to appear in the PSA’s was a very personal one.  In 2007, she fought and won a battle with breast cancer and in 2012 she announced that she had myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition in which there aren’t enough healthy blood cells in the bone marrow.  Because of this diagnosis, she would need a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Although Roberts was lucky because her sister Sally-Ann was a perfect donor match, she quickly learned that there are many people who need bone marrow transplants and do not have a match in their family.  This is particularly detrimental to patients from minority backgrounds, because at this point the patient’s only option is to search a bone marrow registry database to see if there is an unrelated person with a tissue type that is close to theirs. 

However, when searching for a donor through a database, the patient has a much better chance of finding a match if the donor comes from the same racial or ethnic background as the patient.  For African Americans, this is particularly true because the markers used to match donors and patients are rarely found in donors from a different ethnicity.  Also, it is not uncommon for an African American patient to have an unusual tissue type, even amongst other African Americans.

As a result, the likelihood of an African American finding a donor match is very limited. Because of this, nearly 3,000 patients from mixed or non-Caucasian backgrounds will not get the life-saving bone marrow transplants they need because there is no match for them in the donor registries.

Roberts said, “a bone marrow transplant saved my life – and I want to make sure that anyone who needs a transplant, gets a transplant.” Once her cancer battles were behind her, Roberts was named the Ambassador of Hope for Be The Match, a program designed to educate the public about the importance of joining a donor registry and supporting blood cancer research.  So far her efforts have been very successful as more than 65,000 people have joined the Be The Match Registry in the past year.

Roberts recently celebrated her one-year transplant anniversary and is currently cancer free.  So she wants to know, “Are you the match?” Because somewhere out there, you probably are.

Stacy Matson, a health enthusiast from Southern California, regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.

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