Be The Match works to build equity in access to bone marrow and cord blood transplants.
Imagine a loved one on their deathbed, in need of blood stem cell therapy. If you are white you have a 79 percent chance of finding a match to your cell type; if you are Black you have a 29 percent chance. And that’s not the only disparity.
This is where Erica Jensen, the senior vice president of member engagement, enrollment and experi- ence at Be The Match, comes in.
“For young white 18- to 24-year- old donors, they will be available when we call them like 67 percent of the time,” she said. “For the same age demographic, Black donors, they will be available about 29 percent of the time. So we have a second barrier or hurdle that we have to overcome.”
Jensen described the case of 14-year-old Mikayla, a young African American teen in Minnesota who has been living with sickle cell disease (SCD). She was born with SCD, which is inherited, and has been living with the pain of it her entire life.
The only cure for SCD is a blood stem cell transplant; the donor likely needs to be someone who shares her ethnic background.
A match from the same family only happens 30 percent of the time.
“We are trying to do everything we can to support patients like Mikayla,” Jensen said.
Be The Match is a Minneapolis-based organization focused on helping people, especially the BIPOC community, find a match for blood stem cell transplants.
Be The Match realizes cancer doesn’t discriminate and everyone should have access to the transplants that are necessary to live. This is what the company is striving to change by including more BIPOC employees on their staff and work- ing with community partners, such as local churches and young adult organizations.
They also work with Future Health Professionals, or HOSA, an organization for young adults of color interested in health care, and advocate for Be the Match on TikTok and Instagram by targeting young adults.
Adding more BIPOC volunteers to the registry is one challenge, but there are others.
“When we find a match for you, can we get that person to commit to come in and go through the confirmatory typing that we do through a blood draw, to go through the physical exam, and then to commit to doing the actual donation process?” Jensen said.
Jensen said donor safety is just as important as patient safety.
“We’re in the business of saving lives,” she said. “And we’re not going to risk one for the other.”
Before scheduling a donation, Be The Match makes sure the donor is “super healthy,” able to regenerate cells with no problem and can go through the complete process.
A third challenge, Jensen said, relates to patient education. “The third one, attainability, is really about the patients as to how we are making sure there’s equal access to information to grants and funding, to an understanding about the cures that this can have, so that people know that they can ask, so patients can self-advocate for them to be able to get a transplant.”
How to Donate
• Be 18 to 40 years old.
• Go to bethematch.org, click “join,” and then you will be mailed a cheek swab.
• Your cheek swab will get tested.
• Receive a confirmation.
• If there’s a match, then you’ll be called and asked to go through a blood draw and a physical exam.
• You’ll be scheduled for a donation.
• If you have to travel, all expenses will be paid by the patient’s insurance.