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Students competing to save lives

November 5, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Instead of Republicans versus Democrats, it's UCLA against USC. These cross-town rivals are going campus to campus to get as many people to register as possible. For the folks involved, the stakes are much higher than a presidential election -- this is a race to save a life.Sign forms, swab your cheek and you're a registered bone marrow donor. At this point, it's just easy as voting and many UCLA and USC students are getting into the spirit.

"It was something that we had to jump on. It was easy to pull students together to really deal with this problem," said student, Baltazar Vega.

It was actually more of a crisis for L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Bob Corrales.

The bone marrow challenge between the schools came about when friends wanted to help him find a suitable donor.

Corrales has acute myeloid leukemia. A transplant is his best hope for a cure.

His mixed heritage of Asian and Latino makes it difficult to find a match. When it comes down to finding a marrow match, it's all about race.

"It's not about your blood type, it's all about your ethnicity -- what mixture you are," said Corrales.

Experts say Corrales will likely match someone with a Chinese and Mexican mix.

Americans looking at President-elect Barack Obama may not see his multi-racial background. But his marrow type will reveal a mix of black and white genetic markers.

"I meet more and more people who are of mixed ethnicity," said a student.

Of the seven million people registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, only 9-percent are Latino, 7-percent are African American, 6-percent are Asian and only 2.6 are of multiple race.

Drive organizers hope Tuesday's historic election will get more people thinking about the National Registry's need to become more diverse.

"Lives are at stake because of this. It is a big concern for a lot of people," said Vega.

"I'm just thankful to both campuses for what they're doing," said Corrales.

For now, Corrales is fighting his leukemia with chemotherapy. Of the 15,000 Americans who need an unrelated donor each year, only a quarter ever find one.

The UCLA-USC Bone Marrow Challenge continues Thursday and Friday.


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