By Darrin S. Joy and Alicia Di Rado
Shyness is no virtue in Jill Kendall’s world. Lives depend on her ability to reach and touch as many people as she can — and convince them to potentially change the future.
As director of City of Hope’s National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) registry office, Kendall signs up potential volunteer donors for bone marrow transplants. The more people register for the list, the better the chances that ill patients will find a match, even from a donor halfway around the world.
Hematopoietic cell transplantation, also known as bone marrow transplantation, has saved thousands of lives that otherwise would have been lost to leukemia, lymphoma and other serious diseases.
In April, City of Hope’s 32nd annual Hematopoietic Cell Transplant Reunion commemorated the progress in transplant procedures and the thousands of transplant successes since the program began in 1976. It also served as a reminder of the patients who did not survive, and of the need to register more potential marrow donors for patients desperately in need of a transplant.
Every day, thousands of men, women and children search for a marrow match and their chance at a cure.
For some, the search is short. A family member matches them, or a matching unrelated donor awaits them, and they move quickly to treatment. For others, the wait is longer and fraught with uncertainty.
A successful transplant requires the donor’s marrow match the recipient’s as closely as possible. Many factors are involved, and ethnic and racial background can be important, so registry workers look for donors of all ethnic backgrounds.
That’s where people like Kendall come in.
Kendall’s recruitment team works with local service organizations, churches, universities, businesses and others in the Southern California region to recruit donors to the registry.
“Usually we have some connection to a group — a City of Hope employee or their friend,” she explained. “Sometimes people call us and want to get involved.”
Kendall’s office is the largest hospital-based marrow donor registry in the country. Her team adds an average of 600 new donors to the NMDP registry each month, many of them from organized donor drives.
“Our best drive on record brought in 1,000 donors per day over three days,” said Kendall. “It was intense, but we loved it.”
A Persian temple hosted that drive. Successful drives involving ethnically and racially diverse registrants are particularly important, according to Kendall.
“There is definitely a special need for minorities within the registry,” she said. While about 85 percent of Caucasian patients searching for an unrelated donor find one, only about 50 percent of African-American, Asian and Latino donors are successful. Other minority groups with fewer numbers in the registry have an even harder time finding a match.
Fortunately, the registry continues to grow as more people realize how dire the need and just how easy it is to meet it. The process takes only a few minutes and involves taking a swab of check cells from inside the mouth or a small blood sample. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 and meeting certain medical guidelines can join.
For more information about joining or supporting the NMDP, including qualification guidelines and locations to register, visit the NMDP Web site at www.marrow.org or contact Kendall at 626-301-8483 or via e-mail at email@example.com.