A throng of people gathered in a side room of the MultiCultural Center on Wednesday to drink Kool-Aid, tell a few jokes and potentially save lives.
Nu Alpha Kappa fraternity joined forces with the National Marrow Donor Program to present its fourth annual “Hermandad: Dando Esperanza Marrow and Blood Stem Cell Initiative,” or “Brothers Giving Hope.” The event is aimed at registering marrow donors and fostering participation among minorities in an effort to increase the chances of survival for patients in need of marrow transplants.
Nu Alpha Kappa Fraternity Inc. got involved with the NMDP four years ago because it felt a need to make an impact in local communities and inform people of the severity of the problems facing minorities in need of marrow transplants, said Michael Flores, a senior Spanish and biology major and one of the NAK members in charge of the event. Since then, NAK has put on four annual marrow drives and has registered over 3,000 donors for the cause
“By doing the drives in a consistent manner, we’re hoping to get a good number of matches out there,” Flores said.
Bone marrow is used to fight potentially terminal illnesses such as leukemia, sickle cell and aplastic anemia, and certain types of cancer, according to NAK’s website, www.naknet.org. Finding a compatible donor is difficult; the best hope is to receive a transplant from a sibling. If that does not work, outside donors are relied on to provide the needed marrow. The marrow is more likely to be compatible if it is taken from a donor of the same ethnic background as the patient. Even then, finding a compatible match can be difficult. Having a large pool of donors is crucial to saving a patient’s life, but for minorities, the odds are against them.
Of the 5 million donors in the NMDP registry, only 7 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 6 percent are black and 5 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, American Red Cross worker Maricela Renteria said. This significantly decreases the chances of finding a compatible donor and saving a minority patient’s life. For a Caucasian, there is a one-in-100 chance a donor will be found. For a Hispanic, the chance falls to one in 100,000. NAK is trying to increase the donor pool for all ethnicities.
Wednesday’s event was more successful than NAK members said they had anticipated. They expected about 30 donors to register, but over 60 actually participated. Forty-five donors registered last year.
Renteria helped with registration, which consisted of a medical survey and a quick blood test. She said she was very pleased with the outcome of the drive and the selflessness of the students coming in.
“Donors are doing this for people they don’t know, and they aren’t being paid,” she said. “It really makes a difference.”
NAK says at least four lives have already been saved through their efforts, including a 4-year-old girl in Los Angeles.
New donors also seemed in high spirits as they left the building. Javier Ochoa, a senior political science major and vice president of NAK, said he was excited to have become a donor, and a little scared, too.
“I hear the actual procedure is pretty painful,” he said, “but how awesome would it be to save a life?”