Mother-son team encourage others to be bone marrow donors
By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
When Barbara Estrada's son was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, she was shocked to discover that being a minority lowered his chances of receiving a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
"There are not enough minorities on the registry," said the Killeen resident.
Nearly 80 percent of all people on the international bone marrow registry list are Caucasian, according to information from the Scott & White Marrow Donor Program. That means that people like Estrada's 22-year-old son, Jacob Macias, who's heritage includes Portuguese, German and Spanish, have a harder time being paired with a potential donor. He has about a 50 percent chance of finding a match, she said.
"I need to spread the word," said Estrada.
Since his diagnosis in January, Macias has spent most of that time in the hospital, but it hasn't stopped the mother-son team from adding more than 170 names to the international bone marrow donor registry through the Scott & White Marrow Donor Program.
"It feels good," said Macias, a student at Central Texas College, who is taking time off for his health. "You want to get at least one person, and to walk away with 100, that's good."
To add donors to the registry, they have hosted drives at Estrada's office in Temple, in the Kmart parking lot in Killeen and at Memorial Baptist Church in Killeen, where they are members.
"It's a good opportunity to help somebody else," said Susan Mitchell, a member of the church who joined the registry during Sunday's drive.
To join the registry, people must be between ages 18 and 60 and meet certain health guidelines. From there, they swab the inside of their cheeks for DNA. If they are a match, they get a call, said Stephanie Jardot, a donor recruiter.
While the purpose of the drives is to add names to the registry, it's also to educate people, she said.
"People have all these ideas of what marrow donation is - that it's surgery, that they take your bone. It's not true," said Jardot. About 85 percent of all transplants today are actually done with stem cells and require little more than donating blood.
While Macias would love to find a match for himself, he said he's also hoping to get a match for children suffering with similar blood cancers.
"I was feeling sorry for myself, but I felt greedy and selfish having a pity party," he said. "Some people say I'm young and some people say I'm old, but compared to a 3-year-old, I've lived my life already, so I want to give back to them."
During each drive, Macias said he likes to thank each person who joins to let them know exactly who they could be helping.
"If you bring attention to it, people pay attention to it," he said.
Getting more minorities on the list is a benefit to everyone in need of a transplant, said Jardot.
"You're giving hope to more minority patients and they'll have a better chance of finding a match," she said. "These patients have gone through all the treatments and a marrow transplant is their last hope."
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.
To follow Jacob Macias' story, go to www.bethematchfoundation.org/goto/team_jacob.
For more information on the National Marrow Program, go to www.marrow.org.