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Bone marrow donors from the black community can save lives

Ruth Young Tyler | 3/24/2017, 6 a.m. | Updated on 3/23/2017, 12:22 p.m.
Local attorney’s crusade continues in her battle against leukemia.
Geneau Thames (right) was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia in July 2016and is in search of a bone marrow donor. Her husband Trent (left) of 15 years serves as her caregiver. Courtesy Photo

What started as a candid conversation between two women triggered a crusade in search of a bone marrow donor for Geneau Thames, a local attorney who is battling leukemia.

Thames, 39, is a loved one that local cosmetologist Kenya Vincent and Janice Gordon, Thames’ aunt, have in common.

On July 29, 2016, Thames, 39, was diagnosed with melanoma, an acute form of leukemia, during an annual physical. Celebrating 16 years of marriage this summer, Trent Thames’ serves as his wife’s caregiver. He cleans and drains the Hickman Port, which is inserted in the left side of her body and is used to administer chemotherapy and other medications.

The Thames’ have three children ages 18, 11 and eight. The eldest son joined the “Be the Match” bone marrow registry in hopes of becoming a match for his mom but because they have the same antibodies, which fought against each other and he was unable to donate. So, the search continued.

Then, in came Vincent and the DMV Warriors basketball team. On February 5, 2017, the partnership hosted a bone marrow drive on behalf of Thames at Woodlawn High School.

The leadership staff of the DMV Warriors are now part of the “Be the Match” registry. Players and the team’s owner Andre Vaughn, president Frank Jones and head coach Kevin English all participated in the bone marrow drive. Coach English’s aunt perished from cancer, which motivated him to support the cause and help someone in need.

“It would be a blessing to be selected and help to save someone’s life,” said English, a Bowie State University alum.

“If you’re a participant, you may save someone’s life and that’s where we all stand,” said Jones.

Baltimore City resident Tyrell Crowel, a player for the DMV Warriors, was excited to be part of the registry when the initiative was presented. He says he understands the critical need of a bone marrow transplant and is eager to help.

“If I am a match or not, it’s the satisfaction of being in a position to help someone,” said Crowell who was adopted and raised by his grandmother when he was six months old. “I just want to be able to give the same feeling to someone else.”

Brian Smith, an Overlea High School alum and DMV Warriors player, calls it a “blessing” to be part of the bone marrow registry.

“Imagine if it was your loved one or someone close to you,” he said. “We have to be proactive and not reactive.”

According to statistics, thousands of people with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease and other life-threatening diseases, depend on a bone marrow or cord blood transplant for treatment. Although there are millions of people on the “Be the Match” registry who are prepared to donate the cells needed for transplants for patients, there still is a need for donors— especially in the African American community.

The chance of a patient finding a genetic match is better among people of similar ethnicity or racial ancestry. Identifying racial and ethnic diversity in the registry is vital to finding matches for all patients in need, particularly for people of color.

The rate of bone marrow transplants in the African American community is disproportionate rate in comparison to other ethnicities. African Americans are the least likely to find one perfect or suitable match in comparison to other ethnic groups according to www.BlackBoneMarrow.com.

Blacks have a 76 percent chance of having a partial match and a 21 percent chance of a perfect match in comparison to other groups; whites have a 97 percent chance of having a partial match and 75 percent chance of a perfect match; and Asians have an 88 percent chance of having a partial match and a 41 percent chance of having a perfect match.

“There’s a lot of education that needs to be done in regards to bone marrow,” said Mr. Thames.

In spite of the malady that’s plaguing her body, he says his wife exercises daily and feels great.

For more information about coordinating a bone marrow drive or becoming a donor, visit: www.BlackBoneMarrow.com or www.BeTheMatch.org.