Harris County

Latino Bone Marrow Donors Needed To Diversify Registry

Latinos have a 46 percent chance of finding a genetic match for a bone marrow transplant – for Caucasians that number jumps to 77 percent

Latinos are less likely to find the bone marrow donation they need to survive a deadly disease like leukemia. That’s spurring efforts in Houston to increase the Latino presence in the bone marrow donor registry.

For a bone marrow donation to be viable, it must be a genetic match to the recipient, so identifying a donor with the same ethnic background is crucial. 

Finding a genetic match for a bone marrow donation is often a matter of life or death. For J.J. Saldivar, an 11-year-old from League City, the only guaranteed cure for his aplastic anemia is a transplant.

For now, J.J. is seeking another treatment, which has been successful so far. But if that treatment fails, a bone marrow donation will be his only option.

J.J. Saldivar (center) is an 11-year-old boy with aplastic anemia. His condition may require a bone marrow transplant to survive.

His mom, Monica, said she is comforted by the fact that he has two genetic matches with Be The Match, the largest bone marrow donation registry in the world.

“There’s always those matches we have in our back pocket, so there’s relief there,” said Monica. 

But many families aren’t so lucky.

Caucasians have a 77 percent chance of finding a genetic match for a transplant – for Latinos it’s 46 percent.

“Unfortunately, we have met, actually, two families that do not have matches because of their ethnicity,” Monica said. 

That’s why Be the Match is expanding efforts to increase donor diversity in Houston within the Latino community. Over 40% of Houston’s population is Latino.

The organization is implementing bilingual awareness campaigns and developing contacts within Houston’s growing Latino community.  

“We want an equal chance of survival for everyone – no matter what your ethnicity is,” said Anna Brown, a Be The Match outreach coordinator. She was hired by Be The Match a month ago to improve community relations with the Latino community in Houston. 

Part of Brown’s job is to demystify common misconceptions about donating bone marrow. She said donating isn’t a painful procedure, like most people think, and it’s essentially free for the donor as Be The Match reimburses costs associated with a bone marrow donation. To be part of the registry, no donation is necessary until there’s a need from a specific individual. 

Finding a genetic match isn’t only more difficult for Latinos, all people of color, especially biracial individuals, have a harder time finding a donor than white Americans of European descent. 

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