Two letters came in the mail: One addressed to me, the other to my daughter. Both had the same return address: Be The Match Registry, a part of the National Marrow Donor Program.
I can still remember signing up for the program during Black History Month in 1998 as a way of contributing something to black people. When we take into account how our ancestors came from all over Africa and then add in all sorts of DNA from various other racial groups, African-Americans in this country are truly the most bi-racial people around. So if someone gets sick with a life-threatening illness, such as leukemia, a marrow transplant from an unrelated person might be their only hope for a cure. Who among you can remember the press conference that former Chicago Bears player Walter Payton held to tell us he was dying from a rare liver disease and needed a donor liver? With all of his fame and all of his fortune, no match was ever found and he succumbed to the rare disease.
I don’t know anyone who, if their loved one was dying, wouldn’t want to do all they could to save them. Yet black people in this country die because donors are not as plentiful as they should be. Trust me, the Tuskegee Experiment is always at the forefront of my mind. Heck, there are even allegations that some internal body parts may be missing from the bodies accumulating at the Cook County morgue. So although I have told my children that they can donate my body parts upon my passing, I hesitate to make myself an automatic donor. I have good reasons not to trust the medical system when it has proven itself to be less than stellar when it comes to black folks.
One of the reasons I am such a proponent of the bone marrow program, however, is that you do it while you’re living. It is a simple blood test and then your information is listed in a database that doctors can search when trying to find donor marrow for a sick person. If your marrow is never needed, they don’t contact you. But if it is needed, imagine the joy that the patient feels when the doctors tell them they have found a match.
I feel one of the most important factors in becoming a donor member is that it sends an “I Love Black People” message. As a race of people in this country, we have so much baggage that anything we can do to show love for one another is a major plus. Being on the donor registry says that other black lives are important. It says we love them enough to care.
If we are to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, then it starts with taking the small but special step of becoming a listed member of the donor registry. It can also mean volunteering at recruitment drives to get others to put their names and DNA tissue type on the line. It means that, as a community, we are more interested in saving a life than taking a life.
To learn more, give them a call at 1-800-627-7692.