The need for bone marrow donors is startling. “Every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diag- nosed with leukemia or another form of blood cancer,” Marcus Mariota states in a video for Be The Match Hawai‘i (formerly Hawai‘i Bone Marrow Donor Registry) that also features the likes of world champion surfer Carissa Moore, Jake Shimabukuro, Alex Le of The Pig & The Lady and Piggy Smalls, and Miss Hawai‘i USA 2015 Emma Wo. “A blood stem cell transplant can often be the only chance of a cure for these patients, yet only 25 percent of them can find a matching donor within their family.”
It’s a common misconception for patients who are diagnosed with blood cancers—such as leukemia or lymphoma—to presume a family member will be able to step in as a donor, says Roy Yonashiro, Be The Match Hawai‘i community engagement representative. About 75 percent of patients have no such luck.
And in a place like Hawai‘i, where it isn’t uncommon for people to count more than a few ethnicities in their ancestry, the task of finding a matching donor can sometimes become all the more difficult.
“Matches are typically found within similar ethnic backgrounds,” says Yonashiro, adding that Hawai‘i donors are not only valuable to residents here but also throughout the nation. Be The Match Hawai‘i has the largest percentage of Pacific Islanders in the national registry, and yet it’s still only about one percent overall, making it difficult to find matches. Only one of 430 will match a patient.
At any given time, Be The Match Hawai‘i has roughly 25 patients searching for matching donors. And for those who want to help out, the way it works is simple.
Gone are the days of paper registration. The organization now does everything digitally. Instead of having to do sign up in person and submit a mouth swab on site, those interested in becom- ing donors can text CURE131 to 61474 or visit join.bethematch.org/kokua.
Registering only takes about 8-10 minutes. Within a week or so, potential donors will receive an at-home kit with two cotton swabs. All that person has to do in turn is swab their mouth and send it back.
“It’s a lot easier, and it’s a little more efficient,” says Yonashiro.
“If you never thought about register- ing, at least check it out,” he adds. “At least find out more about how you can help, whether you register or not.”
Donors must be between 18 and 44 years old, and remain in the registry until their 61st birthday. (Those who have signed up in the past do not need to resubmit their registration.)
Of course, there are other ways that those who are too young or too old to become donors may get involved, too. Yonashiro says Be The Match Hawai‘i is always looking for volunteers to help out at its drives to recruit new donors. The organization also will gladly accept any financial donations it may put toward the cause.
“We always need funds to keep our programs going,” says Yonashiro.
Yonashiro himself has been with the organization for about 24 years now, having previously worked in the airline industry. He began as a volunteer to help find a donor for his wife’s high school classmate.
It was an experience that left a lasting impression. Yonashiro soon decided he wanted to work for the organization.
“I applied for the job, and I got hired,” he recalls. “I never looked back … I needed something that would drive me; that would give me a purpose— and this does. When you meet the patients, when you meet the donors, it just makes it all worthwhile. It’s not just the patients we’re trying to save— it’s their families and the communities that support them.”
To learn more about Be The Match Hawai‘i and the donor process, visit bonemarrowhawaii.com or find the organization on Facebook.