Multi, a Swarthmore club for students of multiple heritages, will be holding a bone marrow registration drive this Friday and Saturday in the Science Center’s Eldridge Commons and in the front lobby of Sharples. Multi’s interest in bone marrow transplants began after several members of the club learned about disparities that exist in availability and accessibility of bone marrow transplants for racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States, particularly the difficulty that mixed race people face in finding bone marrow donations.
Marrow transplants help treat diseases like leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bone marrow transplants require donors and recipients to have similar autoimmune genes to ensure that the body does not reject the marrow. According to the National Marrow Donor Program website, the chances of two people sharing these genes increases when the people are of the same racial or ethnic group. Statistics from the National Marrow Donor program show that, in the United States, the chances of finding a bone marrow transplant are the lowest for the groups that have the highest need of bone marrow transplants. This is due to the higher incidence of certain diseases among racial minorities. Blacks, Asians, and Latinx people have significantly higher need for bone marrow transplants than whites, but the chances of people from these groups finding a match is significantly lower. A white person has a 97% chance of being matched with a bone marrow donor, but blacks and Asians only have around a 70% chance. The disparity is due to the fact that the national registry for bone marrow donors which matches donors and receipts based on their genetics is disproportionately white. While bone marrow transplants sometimes happen between family members, 70% of people who require bone marrow transplants do not have a potential donor in their family. Young donors between the ages of 18 and 25 are needed the most, as these donors’ bone marrow is most likely to be successfully accepted by a recipient’s body. .
The event on Friday and Saturday will collect volunteer names and contact information, along with a cheek swab. Students will then be added to the national registry.
Casey Lu Simon-Plumb ’18, one of the co-presidents of Multi, said that she wanted to expand the scope of Multi’s outreach to Swarthmore students who face the complexities of being multi-racial or multiethnic.
“I remember wanting to talk about how being multi can bring unique challenges beyond social interactions and things like identity misunderstandings, but also concrete medical things are complicated and how being multiracial makes it very difficult to find a correct donor match,” said Simon-Plumb.
A trip to Israel put the group into conversation with the organization they are coordinating with to make the drive happen.
“Chris, the other co-president, knew that a bone marrow drive had been done at Swat in 2012 and 2007 previously … And then while in Israel, on birthright, we were given the chance to register — they pushed it because Jews are underrepresented given the Holocaust and all — and got more information from Gift of Life, the national organization we are working with to make this happen, and then realised that Gift of Life is who sponsored the drive in past years,” Simon-Plumb continued.
The Gift of Life is a non-profit organization that serves as the region’s organ and tissue transplant network, operating in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The organization observes National Minority Donor Awareness Week every August and has a Multicultural Affairs Committee, which is “dedicated to educating the community about organ and tissue donation and transplantation.”
Multi hopes to make this an annual event. The club created a Facebook event and is working with Maurice Eldridge, who leads campus blood drives.
Eldridge said he was fully supportive of Multi’s efforts, especially given the great need minority groups have for bone marrow.
“While different from collecting blood, [bone marrow registration] is another important step in life-saving across our society. It is important as well to increase the range of diversity of registrants to match the range of diversity in those in need of bone marrow transplants. It is useful to raise that need to greater visibility when seeking registrants,” said Eldridge.
Multi hopes for strong student turnout for their event.