Recently, Be the Match and its senior vice president of member engagement, enrollment and experience, Erica Jensen, organized a drive to recruit blood stem cell donors. She was surprised when 500 students joined the registry, more than she had ever gotten at a university before.
Be the Match has formed partnerships with many universities and has completed more than 6,000 transplants as of 2021. Be the Match also works with Blue Cross Blue Shield to create donation drives. It works with a diverse number of organizations, sharing its story on social media and local news sites.
The difference in the chances of finding a donor for a white patient compared with a Black patient is significantly large. Statistics show that 79% of white patients find donors, while only 29% of Black patients do.
Be the Match has increased the chances of finding a donor for African American patients from 23% in 2021 to 29% as of 2022.
Jensen said this difference is largely because African communities don’t trust the health care system. Be the Match is working on changing this percentage gap by connecting with the ethnic communities.
There are other obstacles to finding donors, she said.
The chance of one person being able to donate to another is very low. This is because people have their own unique DNA, which is connected to their ethnic background. The chances of a person being able to donate to a member of the same family is 30%.
Another problem is deliverability. After Be the Match finds a matched donor, it needs to get that person to agree to donate. The donor must undergo thorough physical exams, and the donating process itself.
Be the Match has upgraded its donor experience, communicating its thanks to voluntary donors.
Jensen said, “If I get a birthday card from my dentist, I don’t really care that the dentist knows my birthday. It was them trying to share that they appreciate me.”
Now, Be the Match pays all necessary costs, and thanks every individual personally.
Jensen added that Be the Match is working on making the donating experience painless. While 85% of all blood stem cell donations are done by a needle in the arm and are virtually painless, some donations require a needle to go into the hip bone. She said that there is minimal pain after the process, and the aftereffects can be reduced with Tylenol.
Not everyone will be able to donate. Jensen said, however, that just being on the registry helps increase the chances of finding a match — and saving a life.
Here are the steps to donate bone marrow through Be the Match:
- Be 18 to 40 years old (anyone inside the range will be best able to recover from the transplant).
- Join on its website at bethematch.org.
- Do a swab inside the cheeks with a kit mailed to you from Be the Match.
- Wait for a match.
These stories were written by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2022 News Reporter Academy high school students. The academy and its theme of holistic health equity were supported by Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN, which connected students with story topics and sources.
ThreeSixty Journalism is leading the way in developing multicultural storytellers in the media arts industry. The program is a loudspeaker for underheard voices, where highly motivated high school students discover the power of voice and develop their own within ThreeSixty’s immersive college success programming. Launched in 1971 as an Urban Journalism Workshop chapter, since 2001 the program has been part of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas. To learn more about ThreeSixty Journalism, visit threesixty.stthomas.edu.