Skin color determines likelihood of finding bone marrow match

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A bone marrow transplant is often the difference between life or death for people battling diseases like leukemia or lymphoma, but your skin color could determine how likely you are to find a match.

The national bone marrow donor program called Be The Match says your chance of finding a match if you’re black or African American is 23 percent compared to 77 percent if you’re white.

One Indianapolis family experienced the disparity firsthand. Erika Martin was just 15 when she lost her battle with leukemia.

“She went into remission but when it came back the third time it had spread to her brain and it was aggressive at that point,” her mother, Brandy Parker said.

She desperately needed to find a bone marrow match.

“It took a toll on me because I felt like a lot of time, I could have saved my sister you know I could be the match and it hurt me when I knew I wasn’t,” her sister, Aaliyah Martin said.

Her family was frustrated after learning people of color were significantly less likely to find a match.

“At the time that Erica passed there were two other kids on the floor that were of color,” Parker said, “The little boy I believe that he had sickle cell and the little girl had leukemia and they couldn’t find a match as well and they passed within 90 days of Erica so that’s just three lives gone.”

Angela Touseull with Be The Match says people aren’t aware that donation is based on DNA and less people of color sign-up to be on the registry.

“It’s based on your tissue typing DNA so there’s a, for blood there’s a set number of blood type for an HLA tissue typing,” Tousuell said.

She says signing up to be a potential match is simple and could save thousands of lives.

“This is a healthcare disparity that we can easily fix,” Tousuell said.

Parker shares her daughter’s story every day and organizes drives to get people signed up. Two people ended up being matches from her drives.

“I know that’s something that she would have wanted me to do,” Parker said, “to know that we possibly saved a life it feels good.”

If you are interested in signing up for the registry, you can text “CURE36” to 61474. Once signed up, there’s a 1 in 430 of chance of getting matched.

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