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The Best Gift You can give this Season

Manjot-In

By P.G.Parameswaran, MD

HOUSTON: During the holidays, when everyone is focused on giving gifts to family and friends, I would like to propose that you consider giving a free but important gift that will be cherished life-long: the gift of life.
Several of our brothers and sisters suffering from Leukemia or other cancers and have stopped responding to chemotherapy and will surely die if they do not receive a bone marrow transplant quickly enough. I am appealing to you, the adult members of your family and friends to register to be bone marrow donors in the Be The Match Registry. The chances of a family member matching is only 15% to 20%. Since only a person of the same ethnicity as the patient can be a match and the patient’s human leucocyte antigen (HLA) has to match with that of the donor, there has to be a large number of South Asians registered in the national Be The Match Registry as potential donors. But the sad fact is that there are only a meager and negligible number of South Asians in the Registry. In addition, if you have an uncommon tissue type you may never be a match.
Imagine for a moment that either you or a family member has stopped responding to chemotherapy, and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Your life would depend on matching with one of the few South Asians who have registered in the National Bone Marrow Registry. Next, imagine the unimaginable: beating the odds, you do find a match…but your match decides not to donate. Unfortunately, this is a far too common occurrence.  
This is what happened to 15-year-old Manjot Singh (in picture).  He has two sisters and lives with his parents and they were not a match. In 2012, he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia. Aplastic anemia is a condition in which the bone marrow (the sponge like substance that fills the hollow of long bones and makes all the blood cells) stops producing enough red blood cells, white cells and platelets. This leads to fatigue, recurrent infections and uncontrolled bleeding, needing repeated blood transfusions. Severe aplastic anemia requires a bone marrow transplantation.  He was lucky to find a perfect match but unfortunately the matched person decided not to donate. We do not know when Manjot Singh will find another match.  
Every 3 minutes someone gets diagnosed with a blood cancer.  For many of these patients a cure is a bone marrow transplant. Four out of five Caucasians find a match in 6 months, but in our South Asian community, four out of five lose this battle without finding a match. If you are committed to give this gift of life you should register with the Be The Match Registry. If registered, and you match with a patient you should be committed to donate a small amount of marrow to save the patient’s life. If you match and decide not to donate, it amounts to a death sentence for the patient since there is unlikely to be another match.
One or two percent of the 92 oz of bone marrow that is distributed in all your long bones, can save someone who has Leukemia, any other blood cancer, or aplastic anemia. Donating this small amount of marrow will have no ill effects on you and your body will replenish it in about two weeks’ time.
TO REGISTER TO BE A DONOR visit https://bethematch.org/ for more information. In Houston, call the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center at 713 790 1200 or 1 888 482 5663 or contact Gaytri Kapoor, Donor Contact Representative in the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center at 281 780 1379. Contact the Indian American Cancer Network  (IACAN) which conducts bone marrow donor registration drives regularly, at 713 370 3489 to find out the date and location of the next drive or visit www.iacannetwork.org
You will be glad you registered to be a donor and helped others to register as well.
The author wishes to thank Gaytri Kapoor for her help in providing the statistics and the case report for this article.

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