San Antonio home to first Hispanic marrow donor in the nation

September 16, 2019

Ralph_Morales_marrow_donor

Ralph Morales was like a lot of people – he actively avoided blood drives at work.

But one day, a coworker convinced him to donate for the first time. And while drinking an after-donation juice, the 33-year-old Morales noticed something that would change his life: a marrow registry booth.

There, he learned the story of a young leukemia patient and met the child’s mother, who was at the table signing up potential donors. And then he signed up.

It was clear to Morales that signing up for the registry could dramatically affect someone’s life, but he had no clue that he was going to make history.

Twenty-six years ago, Morales became the first Hispanic to donate bone marrow in the nation at a time when the national marrow donor registry had just over a million potential donors, and only 7.3% of those on the registry were Hispanic.

In 1993, Morales was contacted as a potential match for a 7-year-old patient. Further testing resulted in a negative match for the young patient, but Morales later was confirmed to be a match for a 22-year-old leukemia patient.

The South Texas Regional Blood Bank (now the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center) ensured the donation went smoothly and answered any questions Morales had. At that time, the closest donation facility was at a children’s hospital in Dallas-Fort Worth.

While the stem cell donation process today typically involves drawing blood from the arm, donating in 1993 meant having an outpatient surgical procedure to withdraw the bone marrow from the hip. As he was preparing for donation, Morales recalls the doctor looking him in the eyes and asking, “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

“What he meant was I had no idea what the impact of my donation would be,” Morales says. “Even then, I didn’t really know.”

Morales met his recipient a year later.

He learned his recipient, Raymond Martinez, was one of 25 cancer patients who had been waiting for a transplant. Many of them never found a match.

“I can only imagine what he was thinking,” Morales said. “After the transplant, he was healed. The marrow worked. He was cancer free for the first time in years. Take that opportunity and be the match. The rewards are bigger than what you go through.”

Signing up for the marrow donor registry is the first step to be the cure for someone in need. Individuals can join the registry by texting GENCURE to 61474. Donors must be between the ages of 18-44, in general good health, and willing and available to donate to any patient in need.