Hispanic Community Lacks Life-Saving Bone Marrow Donors


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The lack of awareness and education in the Latino community on bone marrow donations has resulted in a shortage of potentially life-saving donors,  health officials say.
Due to an increased need for bone marrow donations from Latinos, local and national donor programs are working to educate the Latino community on how to donate marrow and join the registry of eligible donors. Health experts say many Latinos lack the knowledge of the donor process and thus, do not participate.
While all Latinos are affected, children are most at risk. Studies have shown that Latino children have a higher chance of developing and dying from Leukemia than children of other races. The high risk for Latino children, coupled with the fact that bone marrow matches are highly contingent on race for Latinos, makes the need for Hispanic donors increasingly important.
Local Efforts
The shortage of Latino bone marrow donors has prompted many Connecticut organizations to zero in on outreach and education to the Latino community on the donor process.
In a dual attempt to add donors to the registry and raise awareness on the shortage of donors in the Latino community, the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses hosted a bone marrow drive last month at the West Haven Fire Department.
Our chapter of N.A.H.N. is always striving to better the health of the Latino community,” Anne Marie Heffernan, NAHN member and RN at Bridgeport Hospital, said of their efforts.
Despite the need for donors, participants were still slow to sign up. Participation at the drive — Heffernan’s second — was “okay”, she said.
“The fire house graciously allowed us to use their space, but I feel that if we had had the event at a church, my first choice, the participation would have been greater,” she said.
Several other Connecticut organizations have joined forces with the National Marrow Donor Program to educate the general public on becoming a donor and linking patients with donor matches as well.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – Connecticut Chapter also plays an active role in making sure Latinos around the state have access to the most innovative treatments for blood cancers, including bone marrow transplants.
It is imperative that more individuals enter the registry to allow more patients the opportunity for a cure,” Jean Montano, Executive Director of the Connecticut Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said.  “LLS provides patients with comprehensive educational materials about stem cell transplants and we collaborate with hospitals, community cancer centers and community organizations to coordinate bone marrow drives.”
Finding the match for Latinos
In terms of bone marrow donation, racial and ethnic heritage are some of the most important factors, as patients are more likely to match someone of their own ethnicity, officials at Be the Match Registry said. Be The Match is operated by National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), a nonprofit organization that not only matches patients, but also educates healthcare professionals so that more lives can be saved through their program.
The Latino/Hispanic community has a very diverse set ancestry, which leads to many different and sometimes rare Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typings,” Jennifer St. Peter, Account Executive of the Be the Match Registry, said. “Someone who identifies as being Latino/Hispanic may have a combination of ancestors from South or Central America, Europe or Africa.”
HLA typing is used to match patients and donors for bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplants. The HLA type is inherited from each of a patient’s parents, so each sibling who shares the same set of parents has a 25 percent chance of matching a sibling who is searching for a donor.  
However, nearly 70 percent of all patients in need of a transplant do not have a match within their family, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. They reported that more than 12,000 U.S. patients annually are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as Lymphoma and Leukemia that require the use of marrow for the best chance at a cure.
Because the chance for finding a relative to match is low, donor registries exist to help find a match and cure for all patients. “Currently, Hispanic or Latino patients have an estimated 72 percent likelihood of having a donor on the Be The Match Registry who is willing and able to help save a life,” Chris Mulcahy, Recruitment Supervisor of Be The Match Registry, said.
Of the 10.5 million potential marrow donors on the Be The Match Registry, more than 1 million have identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino. In 2012 alone, more than 77,000 potential donors who joined the registry identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino. Since Be The Match began facilitating transplants in 1987, nearly 4,000 transplants have been performed for Hispanic or Latino patients.
Ultimately, Mulcahy said, the number of lives that can be saved is directly impacted by awareness.
In order to save more lives, more awareness is needed among all communities about the opportunity to save a life, so we can find matching donors for all patients,” she said. 
(Photo by Thirteen of Clubs via Flickr)