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Asian American Bone Marrow Donor Program Expands to Include Latinos

New America Media, News Feature, Adrian Avila Posted: Dec 14, 2008

SAN JOSE, Ca.--Auto shop owner Jorge Ochoa is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.

Last June, Ochoa, 24, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia. When his family learned of his condition, they knew that finding a matching bone marrow donor would be a difficult task.

Latinos only account for 5.3 percent of total registered donors in California, as of September 2008. Searching within one's own ethnic group increases the probability of finding a matching donor because of the similarities that make up one's ethnicity.

Asian American Donor Program (AADP) Executive Director Carol Gillespie stressed the need for getting multi-ethnic and mixed-race heritage people to step forward and volunteer to become donors. "Finding a marrow match is like finding a needle in a haystack," Gillespie said.

"Jorge Ochoa's story shows why it is crucial that we are able to find the donors after a match is made," said AADP founder Jonathan Leong. He was at a press conference last week at the Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center East Valley Clinic to announce AADPs official outreach program into the Latino community.

Ochoa was not at the press conference because his doctors told him that his white blood cell count was so low that he could catch an infection if he went out in the sun.

At first, the Ochoa family had no idea where to turn, but they found support from the AADP, which has been working for 19 years to expand the availability of potential marrow/stem cell donors in the Asian community and, more recently, in the Latino community as well.

AADP usually holds around 300 marrow/stem cell drives a year in cities across the country. It is launching a new program to help the Latino community build the registered marrow/stem cell donor bank.

Getting the Latino community to register as donors is a steep challenge. Latinos make up only 388,033 of the 7 million people who are registered with the National Marrow Donor Program. With only a 30 percent chance of finding a match within a patient's own family, it is important to build up a vast donor bank to increase a cancer patient's likelihood of finding a donor and surviving.

Latinos are reluctant to register in the program for several reasons. One is fear of being in any type of traceable database that contains personal information that could be used to deport or detain individuals who are not in the country legally.

Mindful of this, AADP is making sure at its drives to let people know that none of the personal information will be shared with anyone.

They are also told that donors are not required to give their Social Security number or driver's license number in order to register. The registration process is free of charge and is usually done within a matter of minutes.

Once a match is made between donor and patient, the donation procedure is almost painless, AADP staff say, and donors can usually be on their way in less than two hours.

The Ochoa family has high hopes not only for Jorge, but also for any patient who is in search of the one donor that will save his or her life. At the drive in East San Jose, Ochoas sister, Laura, told the crowd, "My brother only wants to help others, and he has always been that strong person."

More information on bone marrow drives can be found by calling 1800.59.DONOR or by visiting the AADP website at www.aadp.org.

Three outreach programs in the Latino community are set for this week in San Jose:

Saturday, Dec. 13 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 2020 E. San Antonio Street, San Jose, CA. 95116. Phone: 408-258-7057.

Saturday, Dec. 13, from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Most Holy Trinity Church, 2040 Nassau Drive, San Jose, CA. 95122.

Sunday, Dec. 14, from noon to 2:30 p.m. at Most Holy Trinity Church in San Jose.

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