San Antonio father needs bone marrow match to beat leukemia

Reggie Campbell urging people to register as donors; low chance of matching for African-Americans

SAN ANTONIO – Facing his third battle with a rare form of leukemia in as many years, Reggie Campbell is waiting on the kindness of a stranger — a perfectly matched stranger — to help him beat the blood cancer.

“It’s tough knowing that, you know, all it takes is one person to donate and be a match for you, and you’re hoping that that one person finds it in their heart to donate. Yeah, that’s tough,” Campbell said.

The 40-year-old father and photographer from San Antonio was diagnosed with a rare form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2017. The best hope for a cure for many patients like Campbell, who are fighting blood cancers and disorders, is a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.

However, that has proved to be a tall order.

Such transplants require a much more specific match between donors and patients than something like a blood transfusion. They are also most likely to come from someone who has the same ethnic background.

Though he received a 50% match transplant from his sister in 2017, Campbell has relapsed twice. So he’s hoping to find a donor who is a full match through the Be The Match Registry, which keeps a database of registered donors.

Unfortunately for Campbell, who is African American, people of color have a harder time finding a match through the registry due to a lack of donors with similar backgrounds.

“So right now with 20 million people on the registry, only 4% are African Americans,” said Ashley Frolick, a spokeswoman with GenCure, a South Texas nonprofit group that facilitates stem cell and bone marrow donations. “And that leaves patients like Reggie with a significantly lower chance of finding their match.”

While white patients have a 77% likelihood of finding a matched adult donor through the registry, Hispanic patients have only a 46% chance, and African American patients have only a 23% chance.

GenCure hopes Campbell’s story will prompt more people, especially people of color, to register as donors. It appeared to be working at the group’s registration booth at the MLK March on Monday.

Tanesha Dredden said she heard about Campbell’s story and wanted to see if she was a match.

“We came straight to this booth,” Dredden said. “It’s exactly what we came for.”

Each person who registers as a donor provides a chance, even if it’s an extremely small one, that Campbell could get his cure — that he could be cancer-free and free to raise his 4-year-old daughter.

“I just want to be there and see her grow and be the respectful woman that I want her to be,” Campbell said, his voice breaking with emotion.

But even if the chance doesn’t pay off for him, Campbell says it could for someone else.

“They’re saving another father, another mother, another brother, sister, daughter. They’re saving somebody else,” he said of people who sign up for the registry. “And I would love that as well.”

To sign up as a donor with the Be The Match Registry, text REGGIE to 61474. You will need to fill out an online form to receive a cheek swab kit. After completing the kit, return it to Be The Match.

You can find more information on the registry and signup process here.

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