Fall Festival board member Tony Aguilar challenges everyone at the county fair Saturday to “Be The Match” for people suffering life-threatening diseases requiring a peripheral blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
In 2009, local resident Dawn Soeder became a PBSC match for a 58-year-old leukemia patient in Europe after registering. A Commerce man recently found the rare match he needed in one of his former buddies after all the local residents who’d been in his college fraternity registered to be potential donors.
Aguilar was part of that group that registered with Be The Match. He says after seeing the results he’s even more committed to being a donor if called upon.
Aguilar said he wasn’t aware how great the need for donors was until his friend needed help.
The easiest and most logical solution for a marrow donor is to have family members, such as siblings and parents, tested to be donor. While that’s usually the first step, 70 percent of patients needing a marrow transplant don’t have a matching donor in their family. That’s at least 10,000 patients per year whose only hope for a cure is a transplant from someone outside their family. At least 6,000 patients at any given time are searching the Be the Match registry hoping for a match, according to Be the Match Registry and NMDP Transplant Center.
Proclaiming to be “the largest and most diverse registry in the world” with 7 million people signing up to be potential donors, one can be forgiven for thinking there are already plenty of potential donors and more aren’t needed.
Sadly, that’s not the case. Because tissue types are inherited, patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity, making people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds especially needed. About 72 percent, or 5.3 million, of all donors in the registry are Caucasian or white. Only 9 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 8 percent African American or black, 7 percent Asian, South Asian or native Hawaiian, 3 percent of multiple races and 1 percent or less American Indian, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, which is entrusted to operate the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, including the Be The Match Registry.
Less than four out of every 10 patients receive the transplant they need due to lack of a matching donor, inability to pay for health care costs or other factors.
Joining the registry is simple. Each donor simply fills out a medical form and swabs the inside of his or her cheek for tissue samples. Signing up in the registry also does not obligate a person to donate a peripheral blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant
Be The Match will have a tent set up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on the fair grounds to answer questions and sign up potential donors.
Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and in relatively good health, be willing to donate to any patient in need, meet health guidelines and keep contact information current with the registry.
All expenses are reimbursed to donors thanks to fundraisers and generous contributors, so no one has to pay to donate. The National Marrow Donor Program reimburses travel costs, and may reimburse other costs on a case-by-case basis.
Those who can’t or decide not to donate can still make a tax-deductible donation or volunteer their time to education and fundraising efforts.
“We have a ‘pay it forward’ campaign, so no one is charged to join the registry, but if someone wants to make a contribution for the next donor, we would love it! It costs about $100 to register each donor, so our program raises money every day to pay for the donor registration process,” said Saenz. “Those that are financially able, or for some reason cannot join but would like to help, are encouraged to donate. I will have tax donation letters at the fair.”
All efforts pay off in the knowledge that the donor or contributor is helping make a difference, possibly even save the life of someone with a deadly medical diagnosis. Aguilar challenges all present at the Fall Festival to make a difference, to Be The Match.