Program taps NU minority marrow

Shruti Kumar

The nation is in need of bone marrow donors — and now Northwestern is being asked to chip in.

NU’s Student Blood Services will try to recruit minority students for bone marrow registration this week as part of the second annual National Campus and Community Marrow-thon.

One of 30 university organizations selected to participate in the program, SBS hopes to get 300 minority students registered as potential bone marrow donors in its two-day blood drive and bone marrow registry. The goal of the nationwide push is for participating universities to collect a total of 3,000 bone marrow registrations.

The drive is today and Thursday from 12 to 7 p.m. in Norris University Center’s Louis Room. Bone marrow registration normally costs $200 per person, but minority students can register for free. White students have to pay $25 for registration.

SBS is co-sponsoring the “Marrow-thon” with other student groups on campus — including South Asian Students Alliance and the fraternities Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. and Lambda Phi Epsilon — each of which is shooting to bring in 40 minority students.

“We know what we’re targeting, and we’re very well established,” said Rohith Malya, a Communication senior and SBS co-president.

Mike Perkins, a representative of Chicago-based LifeSource Blood Services, said every year more than 30,000 people are diagnosed with life-threatening blood diseases such as leukemia.

Those diagnosed can be cured with a marrow or blood stem cell transplant, he said. Only 30 percent find matching donors within their family, and the remaining 70 percent depend on the National Marrow Donor Program to match them with unrelated donors.

Perkins said that although the National Marrow Donor Program has more than 4 million potential donors, only 25 percent of the donors are minorities, which includes blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Latinos.

“Minorities have a very hard time finding matches, because they will most likely match with someone of the same race,” Perkins said. “It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

Bone marrow registration is a 15-minute procedure that involves completing an application and taking a blood test. Following the test, a lab determines the tissue type and enters it into the donor program’s registry without racial classification.

If the National Marrow Donor Program calls up a donor with a request, the donor can choose not to participate in a transplant, but if he or she does decide to, marrow is removed from the donor’s pelvic bones through surgery.

A donor could experience some soreness in his or her lower back for up to a week, but the body regenerates the marrow within six weeks.

“I think that whatever pain it is, it’s worth it,” Mukherjee said. “Because you have the joy of knowing that you saved someone’s life.”