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African-American Donors Too Few for Bone Marrow Transplants

A critical shortage of African-American bone marrow donors could be costing lives. Across the country only about seven-percent of registered donors are African-American, a number that severely limits the chances for a match.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A critical shortage of African-American bone marrow donors could be costing lives.

Across the country only about seven-percent of registered donors are African-American, a number that severely limits the chances for a match.

July is African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month. Doctors at Baptist Hospital are working to get the word out about this issue.

For Serena Scott, faith has been the guiding light through what can only be described as a difficult time.

"I was nervous," she said, "but I knew that everything would work out. I had faith."

Only months ago she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition where bone marrow doesn't produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. It's an illness that could be fatal.

Thankfully for Scott her sister was a marrow match and able to donate life-saving stem cells.

"If my sister wasn't a match then i wouldn't have had a match, so it's really important to see if you can be a donor."

Now Scott is on the road to recovery. Unfortunately the same can't be said for many other African-American patients.

"Usually if they don't have a donor they won't get a donor, so we have to look at other more experimental procedures to get them treated," said Dr. Salil Goorha with Baptist Hospital.

Dr. Goorha says many African-Americans across the country and right here in the Mid-South with leukemia, lymphoma and other diseases are unable to have life-saving stem cell or bone marrow transplants because of a critical shortage of black donors.

"We have a lot of patients who just simply, because of their lack of a donor, they can't get the best treatment that they need."

Patients are more likely to find a match within their own race. With only about seven-percent of African-Americans registered to donate nationwide, black patients are less likely to get the transplant that could cure them.

Dr. Furhan Yunus, Medical Director for the hospital's cancer center blood and marrow transplant program, believes a lack of participation could be linked to fear.

"When people hear about 'I have to donate bone marrow,' the images of 'I have to go under anesthesia' and being cut upon is what most people think of. The process has advanced."

Scott is certainly thankful her sister was a match, and she's also thankful for a second chance at life.

"I feel very blessed, very blessed. And especially for my sister being my donor, thankful."

The donor shortage, which is also a problem in the Asian and Hispanic communities, has prompted Congress and health officials to launch initiatives aimed at encouraging minorities to donate.

For more information, visit marrow.org.
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