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Ethnic minorities face hurdles in finding bone marrow match

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – A bone marrow transplant may be someone’s only hope for a cure for blood-related cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.

The treatment is often dependent on the patient finding a donor who shares the same race.

Tess Trueblood was diagnosed with leukemia just weeks before her high school graduation.

“Everyday is like kind of frustrating in the sense that you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Trueblood, a Wisconsin resident.

Doctors told her the cure is a bone marrow transplant. Tess’ older brother tested to see if he would be a match, but wasn’t, so the family turned to the National Marrow Donor Program.

Ethnic backgrounds can make all the difference when it comes to finding the right bone marrow match: American Indians have a 57 percent likelihood of finding a donor match, 46 percent for Hispanics of Latinos, 41 percent for Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 23 percent for African Americans compared to a 77 percent likelihood for Caucasians, according to Be The Match.

“Those donors are underrepresented in the registry,” said Dr. Ernesto Ayala, a hematologist, and oncologist at Mayo Clinic. “That’s why it’s very hard a donor for one of those patients who belong to that ethnicity.”

Tess who is half Vietnamese and half White have an even smaller pool to draw from. However, she did match with a donor and will undergo her transplant later this month.

“If I wasn’t able to have a donor right away, I would be more defeated and just like this is going to kill me, this is how I’m going to end just because I didn’t have that opportunity…It has definitely opened my eyes to the honor of having life versus not,” said Tess.

The Wisconsin resident is now spending her days raising awareness and encouraging more people to become donors.

If you’re interested in becoming a bone marrow donor or want to learn how you can help click here to join the register. You’ll be sent a cheek swab and a premarked envelope to mail the sample back.

Linda Ha

Reporter | @LindaHaTV |

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