Minority bone marrow is in high demand nationwide

Jeremy Sabado (junior-biology) watches as Carla Murphy, a lab technician, draws his blood yesterday.


Anthony Grant and his family faced a crisis last year. His uncle, a leukemia patient, needed a bone marrow transplant.

"My mother had a (bone marrow) match with him, so she was able to donate her marrow," Grant (senior-English) said.

Grant's uncle was fortunate to find a match within his family because it can be difficult for blacks and other minorities to find a match with an unrelated donor.

Although his uncle is doing well now, the memory of his illness stays with Grant. Now, as President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Grant was able to become involved with a minority bone marrow drive to help those who can't find a match within their families.

"It hit a chord with me because I know how fortunate my uncle was," he said. "There should be no reason someone with leukemia should die because a match couldn't be found."

His fraternity, along with Lambda Phi Epsilon, Sigma Lambda Upsilon Sorority Inc. and the Penn State Student Red Cross Club screened minorities yesterday for the Bone Marrow Donor Registry as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The drive was held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Pollock Piano Lounge.

J eremy Sabado (junior-biology) watches as Carla Murphy, a lab technician, draws his blood yesterday.

Those who volunteered for the screening went through a process that took less than half an hour. They filled out paperwork, read and signed a release form, and gave a small amount of blood. No marrow was extracted at the time; it will be taken later if a match is found and the volunteers choose to continue with the process.

A total of 34 people were screened at the event. Connie Schroeder, Penn State campus coordinator of American Red Cross blood services, thought if the drive had been held in the HUB-Robeson Center instead of the Pollock Piano Lounge, as it was originally scheduled, more people might have participated.

"I think the weather and change of location hurt us; however, any opportunity to educate people about this program is a great opportunity," Schroeder said.

Although higher levels of participation would have pleased her more, she said every donor counts in the often life-and-death matter of marrow donations.

Lisa Hart, field representative for the American Red Cross, said there are also 160 fatal diseases that bone marrow transplants can help treat; yet not everyone who needs a transplant receives one.

"Seventy percent of patients who need a match will not find one," Hart said. "Every year there are 30,000 new people who need a bone marrow transplant."

Hart said of the 2 million potential donors listed on the National Bone Marrow Registry, only 17.78 percent are from minority backgrounds.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities make up 28.3 percent of the general population. Because this number is significantly higher than the percent of registered donors, minorities in need of a transplant may have a particularly difficult time finding a match.

"The reason we don't offer no-cost screening to Caucasians is because we have to use our funding for the groups that most need it," Schroeder said. "At this time, we can only accept African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans because of limited funding."

Donors who came from multiracial backgrounds are included in the minority drive, as Jeremy Sabado, co-chair of publicity for the Penn State Student Red Cross Club, discovered. He came to the drive to aid with paperwork when he found out he was eligible for a screening.

"I don't really think about myself as a minority," he said. "I'm only a quarter Filipino."

The surprise opportunity to help someone else pleased him.

"If you do get matched, they really need your bone marrow," he said.

Another potential donor, Karla Tomlin (sophomore-journalism), liked the idea of having the drive as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

"I think this would be something he (King) would encourage if he was around," she said.

After being screened at the event, she hoped others would participate in the future.

"It doesn't hurt and it's quick," she said. "It would be nice to help someone else out in case you're in that position one day."

Although this screening is over, it is not too late for minorities to get involved. Those interested can contact Debra Smith, American Red Cross bone marrow coordinator, at (800) 999-2566.