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SEARHC Hosts Drive to Increase the Number of Potential Bone Marrow Donors

On March 16 and March 23, 2017, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) will host a drive to help add more potential bone marrow donors to the national Be The Match Registry®, the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world. The drive will take place at the Ethel Lund Medical Center (ELMC) in Juneau (1200 Salmon Creek Lane) from 2-6pm.

For patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, and other life-threatening diseases, 20 percent of whom are children, a bone marrow or cord blood transplant may be their best or only hope for a cure. Bone marrow donors are in demand across the board; however, certain groups have far fewer donor options. Currently, only 1 percent of individuals on the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world identify themselves as Alaska Native and American Indian. Also significantly underrepresented in the registry are Hispanic groups and those with Asian or African ancestry.

It is easy to assume that family members would be likely candidates for bone marrow donation. However, it is important to note that 70 percent of patients who need a transplant do not have a matched donor in their family. A person is more likely to find a donor from the same ethnic background, which is why it is critical to increase the number of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people and other minority groups in the registry.

“Closer genetic ties increase the chance of finding a donor for lifesaving bone marrow transplantation,” said Dr. Janice Sheufelt at SEARHC. “To put it in perspective, 23 percent of people with AI/AN ancestry have no registry match, compared to only 3 percent of Caucasians with no match. This drive is a step toward increasing Alaska Native representation, and having a more diverse representation in the marrow donor registry.”

The first step to becoming a donor is to provide a simple cheek swab. The swab is then sent to Be the Match for typing. Prospective donors also fill out an application and consent to be contacted later if they are a match for a patient. On average, one out of every 430 people on the Be The Match Registry® in the United States will go on to donate stem cells to a patient. The most requested donors are between the ages of 18-44.

“We look forward to a successful bone marrow transplant registry drive with strong support from SEARHC staff and the community,” said Martha Pearson, Health Promotion Director. “It is exciting to be part of the movement to increase the percentage not only of Alaska Native donors but people from all ethnic backgrounds.”

SEARHC encourages anyone in the community that would like to join the donor registry to come to ELMC on either day. For more information on bone marrow or tissue donation, please contact Leah Neff Warner at 907-364-4549, email leaht@searhc.org, or visit bethematch.org.