National bone marrow donor program addresses misconceptions about transplants

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Photo Credit: Jacky Tovar | Daily Texan Staff

Be The Match, a worldwide registry matching cancer patients to donors for bone marrow transplantation, will swab cheeks on campus in six different locations during April 9–11.

“If you are called and told you are a match, it means that out of the 14 million people on the registry, you are the best match for this patient,” said Samuel Hillhouse, a community engagement representative for Be The Match. “You are their best shot at life, and we will do everything in our power to make it easy for you to donate.”

The registration is in co-sponsorship with multiple groups on campus, including UT Athletics, and is an effort to dispel donation falsehoods, Hillhouse said. Mike Thompson, who had cancer on four separate occasions, is a two-time recipient of the transplant.

“I’m 32 now, I wasn’t supposed to live to 18,” Thompson said. “I’m alive because of it.”

When a patient needs a transplant because their blood is producing dysfunctional cells, they are given high chemotherapy doses and the donor’s blood stem cells, which reproduce quickly in the body, Hillhouse said.

Matched donors often believe there is another available match for the cancer patient, which is not true in most cases, Hillhouse said. Other false beliefs include that the donation process is painful, invasive, and has long-term effects.

Be The Match has done this campus event for five years and 13 donations have resulted since then, Hillhouse said. College swabbings are ideal because campuses contain people of the ideal age range for donation, and campuses are also diverse, Hillhouse said.

“When we go on a college campus, it’s really pretty easy for us to diversify the registry, which is one of our main goals,” Hillhouse said.

Ethnicity matters because a patient is most likely to match with someone of their same background, Hillhouse said. White cancer patients searching for donors have a much higher chance of finding a match, within the 90th percentile, Hillhouse said.

“Whereas, other groups do not have that same luxury, because they are underrepresented on the registry,” Hillhouse said.

Thompson, who is white, had 32 perfect matches and is now cancer-free.

“Minorities have a severe lack of options finding perfect matches when it comes to compatibility,” Thompson said.

Zane Ortega, a biology and human development family sciences freshman, is part of Texas Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity helping with the April event.

“We agreed to be part of this effort because it’s a lot harder for an organization like Be The Match to do stuff on a college campus without partnership with a student organization,” Ortega said. “And also, it doesn’t really take a lot of effort for somebody to do the five minute swab.”

Be The Match asks those joining the registry that they have good health and willingness to donate. Sexual orientation and preference does not matter, Hillhouse said.

For every 470 people who join the registry, only one person will match in their lifetime.

“(Being a match) is not a common thing, but that’s why it’s so important to be committed if you are a match,” Hillhouse said, who donated at the age of 21. “You could get that phone call one day.”