A simple test could cure a child with blood cancer or sickle cell anemia, yet some people are just too scared to do it.
“I mean you could save someone’s life,” explained Denise Mosley, with 'Be The Match', the National Marrow Donor Program. “You just never know if you could be that one person that could possibly save someone’s life. Unless you join the registry you’ll just never know.”
“And we need as many people on the registry as possible,” she added.
Saturday morning inside Harris Stowe State University in Midtown St. Louis, Dr. Rohan Ahluwalia added his name to the registry. By giving a simple tissue sample, he was giving hope.
He registered to be a donor of bone marrow, or blood stem cells, which can treat or even cure many blood cancers and diseases. Mosley said some people are afraid of signing up to be a donor, because of myths. They believe the donor process is painful.
“It’s very similar to giving platelets or plasma,” she said. Seventy-five percent of the time, donors give cells through their veins. Only a quarter of the time is surgery required, and patients are under anesthesia for that.
Donating doesn’t have to be painful, she said. “It is joyful.
“I recently met a lady, she’d been on the registry more than 20 years and then she matched someone and you just never know,' she explained. 'There was also a student at SLU who donated over winter break and she said it changed her life. She wasn’t thinking of the patient. Of course, it changed them, but it changed the donor’s life tremendously.”
Registering is only a four step process that takes 15 minutes or less. There are no needles and no blood. It’s just paperwork, and a swab of the cheek. Tissue samples are analyzed, kept in a bank, and if they ever match a patient in need of a transplant, that donor is contacted.
The registry was held on the campus of Harris Stowe, a traditionally black college, for a good reason.
“Bone marrow recipients are most likely to receive a donation from someone of their same race or ethnicity,” explained Dr. Muyabit Adelani, one of the organizing residents. “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough minority donors on the list.”
Mosley added startling numbers. “We are desperate to get more minorities on the registry. We have about 9 million people on the registry currently, 6.5 million of those are Caucasian.”
Ahluwalia is one of the residents who helped organize the drive. He registered himself because he’s planning a career in oncology. Perhaps his own cells could cure one of his own patients.
“What’s drawn me in is having seen the difficult scenarios a lot of cancer patients go through, and the impact physicians can have on their lives by helping treat their sometimes incurable diseases. Or sometimes helping them cure their disease,” he said. “I think one step would be to volunteer my own stem cells to help somebody.”
“I think it’s a process any citizen should participate in,” he said. “Imagine down the line being able to help someone survive. Five, ten, 20, or even 30 years added onto their lives.”