With more than 10 million people listed on the national Be The Match Registry, it seems every patient battling a life-threatening blood cancer should be able to find a matching marrow donor to provide the transplant they desperately need.
But even with millions of willing volunteer donors, many minorities can't find a biological match. The reason: A successful transplant usually requires a donor who shares the patient's racial or ethnic heritage, but just 7% of volunteers on the Be The Match Registry are black.
To help people fight leukemia and a host of other diseases, Be The Match marshaled its forces this summer within black communities and in Congress.
The nonprofit relied on longtime agency partner, Padilla Speer Beardsley, to lead the campaign.
July was African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month. To convincingly convey the stakes for waiting patients, we enlisted Be The Match advocates including 11-year-old Valaria Fend- erson, who needs a marrow transplant to beat sickle cell anemia.
And we spotlighted the dramatic impact donors can make by focusing on people such as Jeffery McGowen, who saved a 16-year-old's life by donating marrow.
Throughout the month, we shared these stories with the media. Numerous outlets covered the need for more diversity on the registry, including BET.com, American Urban Radio Networks, and the Chicago Tribune.
We also went to Congress, which provides major funding for the group. We held a marrow donor registry drive on Capitol Hill and arranged 30 meetings between lawmakers and Be The Match advocates.
The survival story of transplant recipient Betsy Lucas even moved her Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) to join the registry.
Be The Match engaged people online too. Many of the original media stories directed readers to SWABPlusDNA.org, a microsite designed to address common myths about marrow donation. Be The Match's social media posts received thousands of likes, shares, and retweets.
Thanks to increased media coverage and social-media engagement, the number of black people registering online in July doubled to nearly 400, compared to the monthly average of 196.
Our ultimate goal is to provide a matching donor for every patient in need. Raising awareness about the opportunity to save a life will help us achieve that goal.
Barry Huff is SVP of marketing and communications and recruitment at the National Marrow Donor Program, which operates the Be The Match Registry.