Organizations like Be the Match, a bone marrow registry, are marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day by participating in national service day. And the organization's message could save lives.
Patients with blood cancers who walk through the doors at the University of Kansas Cancer Center often depend on a bone marrow donor to save their lives. But minorities have less of a chance.
So on Monday, doctors, patients and advocates spread the hope of medical equality.
For open particular swab kit that was turned in by a Tennessee woman, it saved Penny Rushing's life.
"I had two weeks to get treatment. Otherwise, I would probably die within the two weeks," the cancer survivor said.
Doctors diagnosed Rushing with acute leukemia eight years ago.
"Her chance of dying exceeded 90 percent without her transplant," said Dr. Joseph McGuirk, director of the University of Kansas Hospital Blood and Marrow Transplant program.
Rushing's only chance of survival was to find one bone marrow donor who matched her DNA - one out of 17 million on the world wide registry.
"Waiting that time to hear back takes forever because you know your life depends on a stranger saving your life," Rushing said.
But not every patient is so lucky or meets their match so easily.
"If you're African-American, Asian-American, mixed race, Hispanic, your chances of finding a match is much less than the Caucasians of western Europe descent," McGuirk said.
That is why doctors like McGuirk joined Be the Match's social media push, hoping to convince others of signing up especially if they are a minority.
"There is a big effort to recruit other ethnic groups into the registry so we can avail everybody equally of access to stem cell transplantation. Which is certainly an appropriate effort particularly this day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day," McGuirk said.
McGuirk said they also hope bone marrow transplants can be an equal opportunity treatment.
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