Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, National, News

‘Unbelievable’ Black turnout for bone marrow registry

11th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

(Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American) — On the surface, she is a popular teenager who knows how to work social media with thousands of Facebook friends, but she also is a courageous fighter locked in battle against a rare cancer.

Dre’Neria Westbrook, 18, needs a bone marrow transplant for a chance to survive.

Hundreds turned out at Prince of Peace Church in St. Louis on Sunday to join the National Bone Marrow Registry in support of the Arnold, Missouri, teenager who was recently diagnosed with NK (natural killer) cell leukemia, a rare cancer with no known treatment or cure.

“It went well, everything went smoothly, like my mom planned on doing, so I am excited for that,” Westbrook said.

Her mom, Jullietta Douglas, is fighting for her daughter’s life by teaming with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Be the Match and by educating the community about bone marrow donation.

“Everyone has the power to heal, the power to help,” Douglas said in her “Team Dre” donor campaign appeal.

“If you are healthy and willing, it is really easy to register at bethematch.org for the Match Marrow Registry. You answer a few questions, and then they will send you a kit in the mail. You swab the inside of your cheek and mail it back. If you are a match to someone, they will contact you.”

For the local Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry, the turnout was outstanding.

“It was unbelievable is all I could say — I’m going to cry just thinking about it,” said Denise Mosley, account executive at Be The Match Registry. “We had about 235 people join the registry … that is just unheard of for a minority drive.”

Minority donor drives are important because in bone marrow donations, it it’s the donor’s race – not blood type – that makes the difference in finding the right match.

“It’s all based on your race and your ethnicity, and then it gets into your HLA [human leukocyte antigens] typing, or your DNA,” Mosley explained.

Out of 10 million potential donors registered, only seven percent (685,000) are African-American. Mosley said matching mixed-raced patients can be more difficult because they would need to match someone of mixed-race.

“We need to get people of all color on the registry,” Mosley said. “Right now we have about 10 million people on the registry, but close to seven million of those are Caucasian. Caucasian isn’t going to do Dre any good.”

Healthy persons between the ages of 18 and 60 can join the registry, although donors between the ages of 18 and 44 are prime candidates, Mosley said.

The registry is going through its current database to look for a match for Dre’Neria as it processes new registrants as well.

The day after the donor drive, Westbrook started her second round of chemo.

“I will need a bone marrow transplant to stay alive, that was the whole reason for us doing the bone marrow drive – not just for me, but also for someone else too who doesn’t have a match that’s out there,” Westbrook said.

“There are not a lot of African Americans on the donor registry.”

Mosley agreed with the youth that the effort will benefit others.

“We are a national registry to help everybody in need,” Mosley said.

“Once we explain that to people, that there are a lot of other Dres out there to transplant that they might match, then 99 percent of people were willing to join the registry to help anybody in need — which is a beautiful thing.”

It only takes a cheek swab to join the registry. For more information, call (314) 348-5650, email dmosley@nmdp.org or visit www.marrow.org.

This article was originally published in the June 11, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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