Child's future hinges on source of marrow
Child's future hinges on source of marrow
Rona Marech, Chronicle Staff Writer
Chloe Chang is 21 months old and full of joy. She likes to play with her dollhouse, read with her parents and -- until he died a couple weeks ago
-- hang out with her pet bunny. She's still too young to understand that not all toddlers routinely visit the hospital. Or that she has leukemia. Or that the odds are low of finding a suitable match for a bone marrow transplant.
Making a match is challenging for any transplant candidate, but for minorities such as Chloe -- her mother is white and her father is of Chinese descent -- it is even more complicated because minorities are underrepresented on the National Marrow Donor Program registry. Transplant candidates are far more likely to have matching tissue traits with donors of the same ethnicity.
"Any time you're dealing with a minority, whether biracial or total minority, it's difficult," said Patrick Thompson, a spokesman at the National Marrow Donor Program.
To help improve Chloe's odds, friends and supporters have organized drives around the country -- in Seattle, Chicago, Rhode Island. Stanford students put together a drive at Stanford University, where Chloe's father, Gordon Chang, is a history professor. Six hundred students turned up. "A phenomenal turnout," he said.
Between noon and 2 p.m. today and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, the Asian Health Caucus and Asian American Donor Program at UCSF are sponsoring another drive in the Medical Sciences Lobby at 513 Parnassus Ave. And Mabel Teng, the city Assessor and a longtime friend of Chang's, is holding a drive from 11 a.m.
to 3 p.m. Dec. 11 in City Hall.
The chance of finding a match for Chloe at a drive is low, but the hope is that ethnic minorities who register -- they're required to fill out a questionnaire and give a small amount of blood to determine tissue type -- may prove to be a match for one of the 3,000 people looking for matches on any given day.
One of the issues for a biracial patient like Chloe is the low number of people with a shared ethnicity. The biracial population in the country is quickly growing, but according to the 2000 census, only 868,395 people identified as biracial white and Asian -- and their median age is 17.4 years old.
Minorities are less likely to register for transplants of any kind for various reasons, including distrust of the medical profession, religious concerns and lack of information about the need for volunteers or what volunteering involves. For some minorities, language may also be a barrier.
Teng, former director of Asian American Donor Program in Oakland, which organizes drives and works to raise awareness, said that some Asian Americans and Asian immigrants "feel very sacred about giving up their blood or bone marrow."
That's the kind of attitude we need to combat," she said. "People need to hear that bone marrow and blood regenerate themselves ... and what you gain is saving someone's life. ... People are more educated, but we still have a long way to go."
Of the 5 million volunteer donors in the National Marrow Donor Program registry: 7.9 percent are African American, 6.5 percent are Asian, 51.5 percent are white, 7.9 percent are Hispanic, .1 percent are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 1.3 percent are Native American, 22.4 percent are unknown, and 2.1 percent are multiracial.
The program has facilitated 13,371 transplants since it was founded in 1986. Just 401 of those patients were Asian, 614 were African American, 791 were Latino, 9 were Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 55 were Native American - - compared to 10,842 whites.
E-mail Rona Marech at email@example.com.
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