On April 1, 2008, at the age of 5, I was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a rare disease that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. About two in 1 million people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year.
After being diagnosed, I knew, even at the age of 5, that I was going to have to fight if I wanted to beat this disease.
After many transfusions, surgeries and being in intensive care units and almost dying, the doctors at Beaumont Hospital said there was nothing else they could do for me and that I needed a bone marrow transplant.
My family checked to see if they were a match for me. No one was a game.
Only about 30% of patients find a fully matched donor within their family, so most people in need of a bone marrow transplant are matched through a registry. Yet the genetic markers used to match patients and donors are inherited, so patients are more likely to match with someone who shares their ethnic background.
A whole year went by waiting for a donor, then my family got a call from the hospital saying they had found a matched donor – 10 out of 10.
On March 18, 2009, after receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I received my transplant. I am one of the lucky few African Americans to have received a quid pro quo.
Bone marrow registries lack donor diversity, making it harder for patients of color to receive life-saving treatment. For example, the chance of a black person finding a matched donor is 29%, while a white person has a 79% chance. Increasing the diversity of the donor pool is key to saving more lives.
My donor told me that when he was 19 on a college campus, he signed up to become a donor. Then years later, when he was in his thirties, he got a call saying he was a match for me.
On Friday, March 18, Be the Match, the world’s most diverse bone marrow registry, will host an event on MSU’s campus to celebrate my 13th year in remission. I look forward to sharing my story with other Spartans so they can learn how donor diversity can save lives.
I hope this event educates our MSU community about aplastic anemia and the importance of color donor registration.
With support from the Dow STEM Scholars Program, Be The Match will host an on-campus registry on Friday, March 18, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET at Brody Hall.