Bone marrow registry packing it up ’til next Maui Fair

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Photo by Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News/MCT

People around the country volunteer to help others with medical needs, like Randy Loftis, staff writer for the Dallas Morning News, who is donating granlocytes above for a 5-year-old he’s never met on Sept. 10, 2012. National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match volunteers are currently at the Maui Fair to recruit potential bone marrow donors. They are taking volunteer registrants until 10:30 tonight, Sept. 30.

By Jaylin Kekiwi, sports writer

WAILUKU-Be a donor, save a life.

Along with the thousands of people attending the Maui Fair, Maui firefighters, Kaiser Permanente, the National Marrow Donor Program, and Kamehameha Schools Maui representatives have been there this weekend.

Their main goal, however, was not to eat poi mochi or ride the Zipper. They were recruiting registrants for their Be the Match program.

Be the Match is a program that recruits people to add their names to the registry of possible sources of marrow for people who need transplants. They look for close matches in tissue between the registrants and those in need.

They will continue to register people between the ages of 18-60 until 10:30 tonight. The more people the team registers, the higher the chances that someone in need will find a match.

This is the last chance for Maui residents to register until next year’s fair, as the regional group is based on O’ahu, and comes to Maui only once per year.

Potential registrants complete a health questionnaire to qualify. If qualified, potential donors swipe the inside of one of their cheeks with a cotton swab to be submitted to the registry.

“You have to be in general good health, but also have a good heart and stay dedicated,” said Janice Sakuma, Kaiser Permanente Home Health Supervisor.

Getting the data in the registry is only the first step.

“Imagine if you’re the person who needs a transplant, and you’re told you have a match, but then you can’t get the transplant because your match got scared. It’s devastating for them [the people who need transplants],” Sakuma said.

According to her, it happens a lot. “If you’re a match, you will have to put in forty hours for various reasons. They might want to keep you overnight at the hospital, you might need surgery. Some don’t want to deal with that.”

Though the actual task may seem somewhat daunting, the reward and satisfaction of doing it is “just amazing,” Sakuma said.

“You’re saving a life if you’re a match,” Sakuma said, “People don’t get to do that every day.”

Since the program has been coming to the Maui Fair to recruit registrants, there have been six matches of Maui residents to people in need all around the world.

The latest Maui resident to match is currently in California to donate. The rumor among the registry is that the donor’s marrow is going to help a 4-year-old.

In finding a matching donor, race and ethnicity does matter. There are nearly 6.5 million Caucasian donors registered, but even with millions on the registry, there is a 93% chance that patients in need will not find a match among them.

For Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, the outlook is much worse. With only approximately 150,000 Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders registered, their chances of finding a match are .01%, according to Ferdie Gabat with the Hawai’i Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

“We’re trying to find a match for someone who is part-Hawaiian,” Sakuma said. “It’s a lot harder to do that because you need to find someone who’s pretty much the same ethnicity as the person who needs a transplant.”

Be the Match is not just trying to help people from Hawaiʻi, or only people in America – the program also helps internationally.

“Just because we’re a small island in the middle of the Pacific doesn’t mean that we can’t help around the world. We can have an impact,” Sakuma said.