Giving the Gift of Life: Leukemia Patient's Search for a Bone Marrow Donor Highlights Low Black Representation on the National Registry

Article excerpt

JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN THOUGHT SHE JUST HAD A stomach virus. The married mother of two and senior vice president of community investment for the United Way of New York City attributed her sickness to her busy schedule. But as Jennifer became weak and suffered blurry vision, vomiting, and temperatures as high as 103.5 degrees over nearly five days, she and her husband, Shawn, knew her illness was more serious.

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On Sept. 23, 2009, Jennifer's diagnosis was in: she had adult acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood and bone marrow cancer.

"It felt like having all the air sucked out of you," recalls Shawn, 43. (At press time, Jennifer was hospitalized and unable to comment.) "As the day wore on, it began to sink in and she wondered if she would be around for her kids."

Jennifer, 41, needed a bone marrow transplant. Her siblings were tested but did not provide a match. The next option was to find one through The National Bone Marrow Donor Program's (NMDP) Be The Match Registry.

Currently, the registry is made up of more than 8 million people. "We assumed it was no big deal to find a match," says Shawn. But that would be no easy task--African Americans are significantly underrepresented as bone marrow donors. They make up roughly 7% of the registry, compared with 74% whites and 10% Hispanics.

Because tissue types are inherited, patients are most likely to match the tissue type of someone who shares their racial or ethnic heritage. Currently, the likelihood of finding at least one potential match on the registry ranges from 60% for African Americans to 88% for whites. To increase the chances of finding someone with similar markers, more black people need to register. Donating marrow benefits patients with more than 70 diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia. …