Girl's death highlights need for bone marrow registration

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A patient family, uprooted from their home in Hawaii is faced with their worst nightmare. 14-year-old Destiny Alavrez-Torres passed away in Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford while awaiting a bone marrow transplant.

Destiny did not have cancer, or any other disease, but suffered from a severe reaction to prescription stomach medication that lead her to liver failure, a liver transplant and then desperately waiting a bone marrow transplant.

Be the Match is an international bone marrow registry, where donors can register from the ease of their homes or at a bone marrow drive. Thirteen million people are currently on the registry, yet none of these donors were able to help Destiny. Her struggle came from being multiracial, of Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese and Puerto Rican descent.

While millions are registered with Be the Match, 65 percent of donors are Caucasian and only 35 percent of donors are other races. According to Be the Match’s website, this is because, “HLA markers used in matching are inherited. Some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others. So a person’s best chance of finding a donor may be with someone of the same ethnic background.”

Siblings are only a 25 percent chance for a match, 70 percent of matches come from non-family members. Jennifer Sawle, a representative for Be the Match, said that both of Destiny’s siblings were tested and neither of them were matches.

According to Sawle, not only ethnicity is a factor for donors, but age as well. “Males ages 18 to 24 are the best matches, we don’t really know why, other than they have stronger stem cells.”
Be the Match primarily looks for younger donors, since 95 percent of their matches come from this 18 to 24 age group.

Educating the younger generations is crucial, since they have the strongest marrow, Sawle said. This can be done by trying to get a drive at your college, or simply sharing on social media.

Registering to become a donor is simple and can be done either online or at a bone marrow drive. The process takes only 40 seconds of swabbing your cheeks and then signing a consent form. If you opt to register online they send the kit to your house for you to send back. Follow this link to register online.

“The goal is to make it so the next family isn’t waiting for a donor like Destiny was, that there’s already someone in the registry ready to help,” Sawle said.