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Supes call on SF to close racial gap in bone marrow donor registry

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In this 2015 Examiner file photo, Myla Cunanan, 11, right, shows her iPhone to mom Leyna while in her room at UCSF. Myla, a Filipino-American, has myeloid sarcoma and was in need of a bone marrow donor. However, Myla’s ethnicity made it difficult to find a compatible donor. (Gabrielle Lurie/Special to S.F. Examiner)

City leaders are hoping to increase the number of people of color registered as bone marrow donors, since minority patients in need of a transplant often have a harder time finding a match.

Calling the issue nothing short of a public health crisis, Board of Supervisors President London Breed introduced a resolution Tuesday asking the public to register as bone marrow donors to close the ethnic gap that exists in the donor registry.

More than 70 types of blood cancer are treated through bone marrow transplants, but minority patients are less likely to find a donor in the registry than white patients, according to Breed’s office. That’s because a patient is more likely to match with someone who shares their ethnic background.

“Registering as a bone marrow donor is a simple act that could save someone’s life,” Breed said in a statement. “If you are between 18 and 44, we need your help. And we especially need minorities, whose underrepresentation on the donor registry puts minority cancer patients at an even greater risk.”

According to Be The Match, a non-profit organization helping patients who need transplants, 24 percent of black patients, 17 percent of Latino patients and 16 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander patients cannot find a donor. In comparison, 3 percent of white people cannot find a donor.

Carol Gillespie, executive director of the Asian American Donor Program, said in a statement that finding a match “can be like finding a needle in a haystack.”

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Jane Yin Bolander (Courtesy Bllew Photography)

Breed said the resolution is personal for her because her friend Jane Yin Bolander is battling leukemia.

“I am so thankful for how much help and support I have received from friends and family,” Bolander said in a statement. “It warms my heart to know that total strangers are getting tested to help me and others live. I’m optimistic for the future and can’t wait to be cured.”

Breed is a registered bone marrow donor, according to her office, as are supervisors Norman Yee and Katy Tang, who are supporting the resolution.

“This is an issue we need to continue highlighting especially in the Asian Pacific Islander community,” Yee said in a statement. “I registered years ago when I learned that there are so few Asians signed up as donors.”

A donor registry drive is scheduled Friday at City Hall in the South Light Court from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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