Festival brings awareness to need for minority bone marrow donors

By Jessica R. Key –  Indianapolis Recorder

When Dr. Leonard Scott isn’t working on smiles in his dental office, he is preaching to the masses at RockCommunityChurch located on the city’s Northside.

Combining his love for Christ, the community and health, Scott among others will host Rock Fest on July 13 and 14.

“My dental practice is located in a building and there is a number of tenants in the building. This is an opportunity for businesses to come outside their offices and meet people in the community. And this is also for people in the community to know they’re there and what services they provide,” said Scott.

The festival, located at 5501 E. 71st St., is also a time for food and fun. On Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., festival goers will be able to take advantage of live entertainment, games, prizes, food and free items. On Sunday at 11 a.m. at the same location, the community will be treated to a speaker from South Bend – Pastor Jonathan Miller of NewBeginningsHealingCenter.

Rockfest Flyer 2013

Rock Fest is meant to be a celebration, however this year, its cause goes beyond fun. During the festival, Be The Match, a national marrow donor program, will be on hand doing a bone marrow drive.

Many wonder why a dentist is doing a bone marrow drive. Scott said this drive is important to him due to his daughter Melanie’s recent diagnosis with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer. Melanie was a practicing attorney in Florida.

ALL is a type of leukemia that starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow, the soft inner part of bones. It invades the blood and can spread throughout the body to other organs.

But it does not normally produce tumors like other types of cancer. It can progress quickly and without treatment can be fatal within a few months.

For many people, the cause of ALL is unknown and there is no known way to prevent it. However, there are risk factors, which include: exposure to high levels of radiation; or exposure to certain chemicals such as those present in cigarette smoke, certain cleaning products or paint strippers.

Symptoms of ALL include fatigue, loss of appetite, night sweats, shortness of breath, recurring infections, bruising for no obvious reason, a swollen belly, or joint pain among others.

Treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a bone marrow transplant.

“In marrow donation you are typed and that information is placed on a registry. People who do not have a family member to donate marrow are placed on a transplant registry in order to find a suitable donor,” said Dr. Jennifer Schwartz, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the IU Simon Cancer Center.

During a bone marrow drive, the donor either does a cheek swab or gives blood. Their information is then recorded. Schwartz explains that when looking for donors, the search goes beyond blood type, which is why more minorities are needed to donate bone marrow.

“Our genetic blueprint is determined by ancestry so this is why race is called into play. In this case, we’re looking at specific areas of the genetic blueprint so stem cells that go into the patient won’t be rejected. We match people up this way to ensure the best results,” said Schwartz.

Out of the 10,500,000 members on the Be The Match bone marrow registry, only 720,000 are African-American. When you look at the likelihood of finding a match, a Caucasian would have a 98 percent chance while an African-American would have a 66 percent chance.

“My daughter’s never had nothing more than a cold or things that happen to everybody, then this disease hits,” said Scott about his daughter. “None of her siblings were matches.”

Many point to fear and lack of knowledge as some reasons behind low Black bone marrow donors. Schwartz said people must first put themselves in patients’ shoes and realize this is an opportunity to help someone else. Next, people must overcome myths that have been perpetuated about bone marrow donation.

“People never have to pay to donate. It also doesn’t always require surgery. In the majority of instances, people are given blood cell stimulators. Like giving blood, you just have to sit there long enough for them to collect what they need. Those who do have surgery, they feel no pain and generally have some lower back soreness for a few days,” said Schwartz.

People, especially African-Americans should go to BeTheMatch.org to get more information on bone marrow donation or consult their physician. They can then head to Rock Fest to fellowship as a community, give to a worthy cause and save a life.

For more information on Rock Fest or Rock Community Church, call (317) 479-2340. For information on leukemia and bone marrow drives, visit BeTheMatch.org.

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