Beating the bone marrow match odds: Scientists develop ways to level the playing field

ABC7 is joining "Good Morning America" to raise awareness of the "Be the Match" donor registry.

Denise Dador Image
Monday, February 20, 2023
Bone marrow matches: Scientists find ways to level the playing field
ABC7 is joining "Good Morning America," who has partnered with Be the Match, to raise awareness of the Be the Match donor registry.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- This week, ABC'S Robin Roberts is celebrating a milestone - the 10th anniversary of her return to "Good Morning America" after undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

ABC7 is joining GMA, who has partnered with Be the Match, to raise awareness of the donor registry.

It's all a part of the "One Match, Second Chance" campaign.

In 2018, the life of Cyndee Freeman changed forever.

Doctors discovered her red and white blood cells and platelets had dropped to dangerous levels.

"That was pretty scary for me because I was basically living off of transfusions," said Freeman.

Doctors diagnosed her with severe aplastic anemia. Her immune system was attacking her bone marrow where blood cells are made. When immunosuppressive treatments failed, Freeman's only hope was a bone marrow transplant.

"They checked for a 10 out of 10 match on the 'Be the Match' registry and they didn't have one," Freeman said.

Dr. Eileen Smith, the Chair of the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, said due to a lack of diverse donors, the odds of finding a match for someone who is a person of color is much lower than for someone who is white.

Because Freeman is Latina, her odds of finding a match were slim.

"For Black Americans, or mixed-race Americans, there's less than a 10% chance of finding a donor through that registry," said Smith.

A match is based on the individual markers on the surface of white blood cells, called an HLA. A good match means a lower chance of the donor cells being rejected.

Fortunately, Freeman had three other options up her sleeve.

"Three of my sons ended up being haplo-identical matches."

Haplo-identical means half a match.

"How is it possible that we can do a transplant now with only a 50% match? When for the previous three decades, we required 100% match?" said Smith.

Due to advances in post-transplant drugs given at the precise time to prevent rejection. In November 2021, Freeman's son Brian became her donor.

"I gave him life and he was able to give me life back, you know? And that's huge. That's wonderful," Smith said.