African American blood cancer patients least likely to find marrow matches

City rallies behind man fighting leukemia for third time at MLK March marrow registry drive
January 16, 2020

The San Antonio community is rallying behind Reggie Campbell as he fights leukemia for the third time and searches for the marrow donor who could save his life. 

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Finding a donor will be an uphill battle for the local photographer and his family. African American patients like Campbell are least likely to find a matching stem cell or marrow donor on the Be The Match Registry, a national database that connects potential donors to patients in need of a stem cell or marrow transplant.

“We need people who look like us to donate,” said Campbell, who was diagnosed in 2017 with a rare form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an agressive blood cancer.

When first diagnosed, no matches were available on the marrow registry for Campbell. Instead, he received a 50% match transplant from his sister.

Since receiving his transplant in 2017, Campbell has relapsed twice, most recently in November 2019.

This time, he needs a perfect match to beat his cancer.

San Antonians who are age 18-44 and in general good health can support Campbell by joining the marrow registry at the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. March  on Jan. 20, from 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

For many patients fighting blood cancers and blood disorders like leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia, a stem cell or marrow transplant is their best hope for a cure. To receive a transplant, patients must find a donor who closely matches the genetic tissue typing of their immune system, which is inherited from a person’s ethnic background.

Many patients will not find a match within their family and instead turn to the Be The Match Registry. However, African Americans and other minorities remain largely underrepresented, leaving patients like Campbell with only a 23% chance of finding the match they need.

Likelihood of finding a Matched Adult Donor on the Be The Match Registry (graphic attached):

African American or Black (23%)

Asian or Pacific Islander (41%)

Hispanic or Latino (46%)

American Indian or Alaska Native (57%)

White (77%)

“We have made great strides to add donors of Hispanic descent to the registry in South Texas, but there is still a great need for people from African American descent and other ethnic backgrounds to join,” said Allison Boehme, the lead community engagement representative with GenCure, who works with Be The Match to find potential donors in South Texas.

Blood donations will be also be taken from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at two South Texas Blood & Tissue (STBTC) bloodmobiles on the intersection of Palmetto Avenue and Iowa Street. STBTC will thank donors with a T-shirt.

For the 29th year, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Psi Alpha Chapter, is sponsoring the blood and marrow registry drive in honor of Dr. Charles R. Drew, the father of blood banking in the United States and an early member of the fraternity.

All blood donors must present identification. Anyone who is 16 years old and weighs at least 120 pounds (with parental consent form), or 17 years old and above and weighs at least 110 pounds and is in good general health may donate blood. All donors receive refreshments, a min physical and are encouraged to eat well before and after donation. Learn more about blood donation at www.SouthTexasBlood.org

To join the registry, potential donors must be between the ages of 18-44, in general good health and have no history of or current serious illnesses. Those who sign up will be on the registry until they are 61. More about the registry is available at GenCure.org/BeTheMatch.

Media opportunities: Interviews with GenCure representatives before or during the drive. Depending on his health, possible interviews with Reggie and Zenaida Campbell. Footage and interviews of individuals joining the registry or donating blood.