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Bone marrow donor registry lacking ethnic and racial diversity

Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 01:55:34-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — A bone marrow transplant can save a life. 30% of patients are lucky enough to find a match within their immediate family. But the vast majority rely on a donation from a volunteer registry.

The problem is – that registry is lacking ethnic and racial diversity - making it harder for patients of color to get the life-saving treatments they need.

Ameera David breaks down the disparities and introduces us to a metro Detroit family now waiting for that miracle match.

Ryder Washington is like any typical 6-year-old boy. He loves to show off his monster truck collection.

Unlike most 6-year old's, Ryder has an appreciation for the simple things, because he is forced to endure days that are far more complicated.

“He woke up one morning and was covered in blood,” said mom Kimberly Washington.

It was a year ago when Ryder lost his first tooth- causing abnormal blood loss, that sent him to the Emergency Room.

“They told us he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome,” said Washington.

Also known as (MDA) - it is a blood disorder rarely found in small children– that typically leads to cancer.

“And to slow the progression or prevent it, we would need a bone marrow transplant,” said Washington.

Because no family member is a 100% bone marrow match, Ryder has had to join a waiting list- and hope that he matches with a stranger who is willing to give him the gift of life.

But it won’t be easy, a person’s best chance of finding a donor is typically with someone from the same ethnic background, because of genetic similarities. and despite a registry of 22 million potential donors, people of color are still heavily under-represented.

A look at the numbers shows if you’re a Caucasian patient, your chance of finding a match is 79%. if you’re Hispanic, those odds go down to 48%, and if you’re African American- your chance of a match is just 29%.

WXYZ’s Ameera David asked, “Your odds appear to be lowest if you’re Black, why is that?”

“We have the lowest number of African Americans on the registry so that’s an issue of awareness, said Erica Jensen, National Marrow Donor Program, Be the Match.

Be the match says awareness is one component and has been particularly challenging during the pandemic, with face-to-face recruitment limited.

“We haven’t been visible we haven’t been around in African American communities sharing the message,” said Tarita Gibson of Be the Match.

Unfortunately, the slowed growth hasn’t helped the troubling health disparities,” said Jensen.

“How long on average could a minority expect to be waiting?” asked David.

“On average if you’re Caucasian it’s about 6 years on the registry,” said Jensen.

Compare that with Black Americans whose average time waiting on the list is 9 years and 12 years if you’re an African American male.

Ryder, who’s already been waiting for about a year, doesn’t have that kind of time.

“What’s been the hardest part of all of this?” asked David.

“The hardest part is just keeping things normal for him and our family,” said Washington.

Today, the family is pushing through the pain by leaning on each other and in the hope that more people will invest the five minutes it takes to find out if they’re a match.

“Do a little research- really just a small gesture could save a life,” said Washington.

Maybe even the life of Ryder- the boy who’s now in a race toward one simple goal to keep smiling and bringing smiles to everyone he meets.

Anyone aged 18 to 40 years old is eligible to join the match registry.

To do it all you have to do is text save Ryder, one word (saveryder) to 61474 and a user-friendly swab kit will be sent directly to your door.