BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Surrounded by her four children, all under the age of 13, Nikita Allen talks about some her family's favorite pastimes. They include watching football, cooking and imitating the cooking show "Chopped."
"Just a typical family. We love doing things together," said Allen.
Allen first contacted WAFB in early December. She wanted to share the story of her husband, Troy, who was fighting Multiple Myeloma, a rare blood cancer. Troy was first diagnosed in 2009. He underwent several treatments using stem cells and chemo, but the cancer ultimately returned. His only hope was a bone marrow transplant.
Unfortunately finding a match for a transplant is difficult, especially among minority populations and the Allen family is African American.
"His doctor would like to find a donor if it's possible but in the African American population the percentage of donor participation is low. I am hoping you can help me, help my husband to get the word out to get individuals involved in participating in saving a life and get tested to see if they are a match and if so agree to be that donor," Allen wrote in an email.
We agreed to do a story, urging more people to sign up for the Be the Match Foundation. Be the Match is a nonprofit organization that matches patients in need of a transplant with potential donors. There was even a donor drive in planned in Troy's honor. Sadly, however, Troy passed away in the hospitals shortly after contacting us, just a month shy of his 44th birthday.
"I prayed with him like I always did, I sang to him, I said scriptures and we had more visitors," said Allen recalling her husband's last hours. "He coded for the last time and I went and held him and I saw he was gone."
A month later, Troy's widow is determined to turn her family's grief into hope for others fighting that same cancer.
"Time just wasn't one our side, but I'm going to continue because if anyone can just listen, listen to our story and to try to help somebody else, to please do so," said Allen.
Unlike donating blood, a bone marrow donation must match on a genetic level. That means you are more likely to find a match from someone who shares the same ancestry. Currently minorities only make up around 30 percent of the Be the Match registry, making it even harder to for minority patients to find a life saving match. In addition, most patients in need of a bone marrow transplant will not find a match within their own family.
"We need folks with different backgrounds, different ethnicities and racial make up," explained Be the Match Foundation spokeswoman Madonna Phillips.
Signing up for the registry is simple and can be done online or through a local donor drive. All participants have to do is fill out some paperwork and have their cheek swabbed. Once everything has been submitted, a donor's information goes into the registry, and waits for a match.
It is important to note that signing up for the registry is a long term commitment. A donor may be called to donate within a few weeks, a few years or possibly never. Also, a donor can be called until they are 61 years old.
Phillips says there are many concerns and misconceptions when it comes to bone marrow donation. She says the biggest myth is that it is a painful, long process.
There are actually two ways through which bone marrow can be extracted. The first and the most common way is through a process similar to blood donation. A donor takes some medication a few weeks in advance and then their blood is drawn. Once drawn, the needed bone marrow is extracted and the blood is returned, all in the same process.
Phillips says that process takes about three hours.
The second method involves the bone marrow being harvested directly from the hip bone. That process is more involved, but the donor is put under a local or general anesthetic. That method is only used in 25 percent of cases.
"The thing to think about when you go into that part of the process, nine times out of 10, the patient is a child. The reason that they do that is a patient who is a child is still growing and they need more of the marrow than an adult would need," said Phillips.
Phillips says any discomfort felt is a small price to pay for saving the life of someone suffering from a blood cancer or even sickle cell anemia.
For more information on Be the Match or to sign up, click here.