UNION COUNTY — A group of high school students and a local church are working together to help save lives including that of a 2-year-old child diagnosed with leukemia.
Tychrisa Whitmire, Hannah Griffin, Kaderious Fleming, and Cameryn Tyler are students in Donna Pendleton’s Health Science Class at the Union County Career Center. They are also members of the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), a national student organization for health occupations. As member of both the class and HOSA, the students have undertaken a project to promote community awareness of the need for bone marrow donors, especially African-American and mixed race donors.
Whitmire, who is president of the UCC HOSA Club said that she and her fellow students are partnering with “Be The Match,” a national organization that works to get people to match people suffering from diseases like leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other blood disorders with persons who can donate bone marrow or blood that can be used in treating their condition. She said and her fellow students are working with Ashley Collier, Regional Coordinator for Be The Match, to not only help raise local awareness of the need for donors, but also encourage them to get tested to see if they are a match for persons needing a bone marrow transplant or blood.
Whitmire said that the group, together with Collier, will be at Wyatt’s Chapel Baptist Church this Sunday “to educate the congregation about leukemia and bone marrow donations.” She said they will be back at the church on Sunday, Feb. 28 to take swabs of the inside of the mouths of persons willing to be tested to see if they are a match for a person needing bone marrow or blood.
Fleming is a member of the Wyatt’s Chapel which has a health care ministry led by Dr. Erica Savage-Jeter who has been working with the students to organize the effort at the church.
Grffin said that of those who get their cheek swabbed, only one in 70,000 will be receive a call from Be The Match asking them for a donation. She said of those, 75 percent will be asked to donate blood while 25 percent will be asked to donate bone marrow.
“Help Us Save Lilly”
In addition to raising public awareness of the need for donors, the students are also hoping to find a match for a little two-year-old girl named Lily who has been diagnosed with leukemia.
Tyler said that Lilly was born in Uganda and was placed in an orphanage there when she was 10 days old. She said that Lilly was sick, but the doctors at the orphanage were unable to determine the cause of her illness. Tyler said a missionary from South Carolina at the orphanage adopted Lilly and brought her to Columbia where shortly after her first birthday she was diagnosed with leukemia.
Pendleton said that leukemia is a disease that suppresses the production of healthy blood cells resulting in the production of abnormal white blood cells that are unable to fight off infections and abnormal blood red blood cells that cannot carry oxygen. It is a form of cancer and it is the most common form of cancer in children.
Leukemia is diagnosed 10 times more often in adults than in children, but it causes more deaths among children and young adults under the age of 20.
In 2012, leukemia developed in 352,000 people worldwide and caused 265,000 deaths.
The threat posed by leukemia, especially to children like Lilly, is why the students say they are hoping to raise local awareness of the disease and encourage people to get tested to see if they could be a match for some need a lifesaving bone marrow or blood donation.
“By giving a cheek swab you could save her life or anybody’s life,” Tyler said.
African-American Donors Needed
Every day, 148 Americans are diagnosed with leukemia and 67 lose their battle with the disease. Each day also sees 221 American diagnosed with lymphoma and 57 losing their battle with that disease.
While it is the most common form of cancer in children, leukemia does not discriminate, striking men and women all ages and races. The five-year survival rate for non-Hodkin’s lymphoma and leukemia is, however, 8 percent lower for African-Americans than white Americans.
One of the things the students will be emphasizing at Wyatt’s Chapel is the need for the African-American bone marrow and blood donors.
In a leaflet publicizing Lilly’s need for a donor, Be The Match states that “patients need a matching tissue type, not a matching blood type. So patients are more likely to match some of their same ethnic background.”
Pendleton reiterated this, explaining that where leukemia and similar diseases are concerned, it is not about matching blood types, but about matching genotypes. She said this means that an Aftrican-American or an African like Lilly needs a donor who matches their genotype and that means they need a donor who is African-American or African.
While the students will be emphasizing the need for African-American donors, Pendleton said there is also a great need for biracial, white and Hispanic donors and she encourage everyone who meets the criteria for being a potential match to get tested.
To join the Be The Match registry, a person must:
• Be between the ages of 18 and 44.
• Be in general good health.
• Be willing to donate to any patient you may match.
If you are interested in joining the registry but are unable to be at Wyatt’s Chapel on Sunday, Feb. 28 you can join the national registry online in Lilly’s honor at http://join.bethematch.org/fight4lilly.
According to Be The Match, “When you join online, you will complete you information online and a packet of Q-tipe will be mailed directly to you to swab your cheeks. Five minutes of your time could be a lifetime to a searching patient.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.