Be The Match urges African-Americans to step up and become marrow donors

canstockphoto13507627( – Judah Wilks was 11 months old when he was adopted by a family in the United States and left the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the first time.

After having limited access to medical care, Wilks finally went for his newborn wellness checkup where his new parents received devastating news – Wilks had sickle cell anemia, an inherited blood disorder.

The child, not even a year old, suffered a stroke before receiving an umbilical cord blood transplant in October 2013. A few months later, his body rejected the transplant, leaving his parents heartbroken once again. Now 3 years old, Wilks needs a bone marrow transplant to save his life. But first he must find a matching donor.

A bone marrow or cord blood transplant can be a cure for patients battling more than 70 diseases, including sickle cell anemia and blood cancers such as leukemia. Patients are most likely to match someone who shares their ancestry, but like many African-Americans in need of transplants, Wilks has yet to find a matching donor.

That’s why Be The Match, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on saving lives through bone marrow and cord blood transplantation, is raising awareness about the critical need for more African-Americans to volunteer as potential bone marrow donors this July, which is African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month. Be The Match is headquartered here in Minneapolis.

African-American patients have the lowest odds of finding a matching bone marrow donor compared to all other populations. They also have the most diverse tissue types, which makes the matching process even more challenging.

Throughout July, Be The Match will host donor registry drives across the country to add more African-Americans to the national Be The Match Registry, giving patients everywhere more hope for a cure. A special online promo code, “AABMAM,” can be used to join the registry online by visiting

The cure for sickle cell anemia and other life-threatening diseases is in the hands of ordinary people – people like 22-year-old Jasmine DeBerry. DeBerry answered the call to donate to a young child batting sickle cell anemia – just like Wilks. DeBerry joined the registry as an 18-year-old, dedicating her registration to a friend who died from sickle cell anemia the previous year. So, when the busy college basketball star was called to donate in the midst of the season, she understood the importance of the donation and didn’t hesitate to move forward.

“We have the ability to help someone and it’s our responsibility to do so,” said DeBerry, who donated last August. “If you’re healthy, this is a very easy process and you should want to do it. Just think about the result … you’re giving somebody another chance at life.”

Dr. Jeffrey W. Chell, chief executive officer of Be The Match, reminds potential donors that the first step to save a life only takes a few minutes.

“We are asking African-Americans to take 15 minutes today and join the registry,” said Chell. “You can sign up online or from your smartphone. It’s a simple step, but it means everything to patients like Judah and their families. Please consider joining the registry today, and if you are called as a potential match for a patient, say ‘yes’ to donating. Say ‘yes’ to saving a life.”

Sickle cell disease affects millions of people throughout the world. In the United States alone, sickle cell disease occurs among one out of every 500 Black or African-American births. To get more facts about bone marrow donation and sign up as a committed registry member, visit

July 20, 2015
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