Search for donor with unique ancestry is urgent
By Rick Smith - June 19, 2009
Anthony Lee, a 15-year-old resident of the small enclave of Hessel, Mich., urgently needs a bone marrow transplant. So far, there's been just one major obstacle: A suitable donor needs to have ancestry similar to the lad's - a mix of American Indian, Korean, German and Swede.
Doctors diagnosed aplastic anemia in Lee about two and a half years ago. According to the Mayo Clinic, aplastic anemia is a condition where one's body stops producing enough new blood cells to replenish dying cells. A variety of blood cells course through one's bloodstream - red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells fight infection and platelets help the blood clot. This means someone who has aplastic anemia becomes easily fatigued and is at higher risk for infections and uncontrolled bleeding.
It is a rare and serious condition that can develop at any age. Treatment for aplastic anemia may include medications, blood transfusions or bone marrow transplants. Doctors tried a variety of treatments and medications on Lee; one treatment worked successfully for a year. In early 2008, Lee's blood cells and platelets were regenerating quite well and held steady through the summer.
But his cellular regeneration began to decline later in the year and became worse by winter. More recently, a stem cell procedure was tried but it failed to take hold. Doctors have determined there is only one last hope for him - find a suitable bone marrow donor and perform a transplant as soon as possible.
Bone marrow transplants, according to the Mayo Clinic, are most successful if the matched donor is a relative, but Lee has no compatible matches in his family. The next best course is to find a match among healthy, unrelated people with similar ancestry between the ages of 18 and 60.
Lee's unique ancestry is a challenge. The National Marrow Donor Program says there is a dire need for Asians and American Indians to register as potential donors to fill a shortage of readily available prospects.
Eric Trosko of the NMDP says those eligible to join the marrow registry need to be in general good health and willing to donate to any patient in need.
"You simply complete a registration form and swab the inside of your cheek. That's it, no blood draw and the entire registration process only takes about 10 minutes. If you match a patient, donations can now be made through a simple blood draw procedure instead of the old surgical procedure through the hip. There is no cost for members of any American Indian tribe to join the marrow registry or donate."
If you would like to join the marrow registry or learn about how easy it is to host your own marrow donor registration drive, contact Trosko in East Lansing, Mich., at (800) 471-3020, ext. 101. Trosko will provide kits for anyone who wants to join the registry.
Lee loved participating in sports at Cedarville High School and was active in skiing, basketball, football and track. Then he began having difficulty regaining normal breathing after exerting himself, the condition eventually led doctors to the aplastic anemia diagnosis.
Lee wants to resume his involvement in academics and sports, perhaps pursue a career as a doctor. But first, a suitable donor must be found.