Bone Marrow Transplant & Sickle Cell Anemia Treatment, What You're Not Hearing About

Shortage of Minority Donors

The news about a major treatment for sickle cell disease hit hundreds of newspapers and publications around the world Wednesday. Now I couldn't read them all, but of the several I did only one directly addressed the back end of the story. There's always a story behind the story if you know what to look for. I'll leave the heavy medical speak to doctors and researchers in the link to the LA Times story below.

But here's a simple summary of the big announcement: Doctors have now found a way to use bone marrow transplants to effectively treat more adults suffering from Sickle Cell Anemia. It "appears" to be very good news for 70,000 Americans, almost all of them black, a few of Jewish descent. To greatly simplify sickle cell patients' red blood cells have a crescent shape, like sickles. Their jagged edges get stuck on the walls of blood vessels which can be very painful and sometimes fatal.

If you don't know, bone marrow typing to find matches outside your family go almost exclusively along racial and ethnic lines. Put it another way, sickle cell candidates for bone marrow transplants will need a black donor. And there's part of the rub. If you're black you have about a 30 percent less chance of finding a bone marrow match than someone who's white. Of the seven million people in donor registries, fewer than seven percent are African American.

If ever there was an example of the racial divide in the available health care in America, this is it. The face of sickle cell anemia is a black one. That's not a judgement, that's a fact. But there's good news in addressing the chronic shortage of available minority donors. With a simple cheek swab they can register as potential donors with the help of www.bethematch.org.

The news about treating sickle cell anemia with bone marrow transplants is certainly good, but if a match can't be found, what does it matter? Take matters into your own hands and register as a donor today at www.bethematch.org. You are a match for someone somewhere in the world, it's just a matter of will that person get sick and will you be registered when the call for help comes?

Kevin Walsh is the author of The Marrow in Me and an anchor/reporter for Comcast Sportsnet New England and New England Cable News. His book details his journey to becoming a bone marrow donor for a 16-year-old boy he'd never met. More information about Kevin and his causes can be found at www.kevinwalshonline.com.

LA Times Story
http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-sci-sickle-cell10-2009dec10,0,3447046.story