Be the Match Mixed People

Almost 20 years ago, I put my name in the National Marrow Donor Program's registry. It was easy - I gave a little blood and my contact info, basically. As I did it, I hoped I'd never need a donor and that I'd never be called to donate. I was afraid of having bone marrow drawn.

But I knew being on the registry is important, so I put my name down and gave the blood. I had the inside scoop on the NMDP because my mom helped start it in the '80s. I watched her travel the world to set up registries in minority communities. She went to Oakland, Calif., and Japan and Europe to engage people in a small, selfless act. Get on the registry, possibly save a life.

Because of her, I know that it's especially important for mixed people to be on the list. We're rare, which means, if we need stem cells (that's what bone marrow is all about - stem cells) we are probably screwed. Here's the science:

If you're mixed, especially a weird mix like Jewish, Native American, Black and White, your chances of finding an HLA-matching stem cell donor are really small. Like, write your will and complete your bucket list small. Because stem cells aren't like blood type, where there are only a few options and lots of donors. It doesn't just take another person with A+ blood. In fact, blood type has nothing to do with it. It's way more complex and much more based in your genetic make up.

Understanding this, kind of, I got on the list and forgot about it.

20 years later, I get an email from Be the Match. I thought it was a hoax. I promptly forwarded the email to my mom and asked her to check it out with her old National Marrow Donor Program people. Two days later, I got a reply. It was real. Not a joke. Someone needed a donation and I might a match.

Holy sh*t.

I don't usually swear online but I'm overwhelmed. As I filled out the official health form, it hit me: Somewhere, a 3-year-old girl with aplastic anemia needs a donor and I might be the one to save her life.

I imagined that little girl's parents. The doctor telling Ms. Washington and Mr. Levine that finding a match for little Unique Levine was going to be tough to impossible. The doc may have already started running through their other options, like having another child in the hopes that one will be healthy and a be a match (odds: 25% for siblings). The parents have been steeling their hearts, maybe holding hands, maybe praying, maybe slowly giving up hope and then... a possible match. Me, a woman ~40 years older than their modern, unusually mixed child and yet of the same background. And, because of so many twists of fate, I'm on the Be the Match list and still use the email I created 20+ years ago.

Today, I don't know if I'll be chosen. There's still tests to be done on my old sample to confirm that I really am a match. I hope the result is yes. I don't want to get bone marrow drawn but I hope I'm a match because being mixed is a gift and, in this case, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

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