Bone marrow donors needed

Learning that she could help save the life of her sister was one of Sally-Ann Roberts’ proudest moments.

Her sister, Good Morning America co-host and television personality Robin Roberts, needed a bone marrow transplant in 2012. Luckily, Sally-Ann Roberts was a match.

“It was the most exhilarating, rewarding experience of my life,” said Sally-Ann Roberts, a longtime news anchor at WWL-TV in New Orleans.

But, for some on the bone marrow transplant list, a match never comes, she said.

To fill the need for bone marrow donors locally, three entities have teamed up to launch the 90-Day Donor Challenge, a drive to add as many Baton Rouge-area bone marrow donors to the national donor registry as possible.

A joint operation between the office of Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center and Be the Match, a national bone marrow donor registry, the challenge will promote the need for more bone marrow donors, especially African-Americans and minorities.

A mobile volunteer center will appear throughout the Baton Rouge area over the next 90 days to test possible donors. To join the registry, donors must be 18 to 44 years old and meet a few health requirements, said Madonna Phillips, a community engagement representative with Be the Match. Testing for the donor list includes a swab of the cheek and some paperwork.

“Instead of sticking you with a needle, we’re going to tickle the inside of your cheek,” Phillips said.

Bone marrow can be used to treat several medical conditions, including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia.

Organizers want to get at least 250 new donors through the 90-Day Donor Challenge, said Renea Duffin, vice president of cancer support and outreach for Mary Bird Perkins.

Holden said at a press conference for the challenge that he approached the staff of Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Services after learning how difficult it was for some people to receive bone marrow donors.

“We should not have to look across the country for a potential match,” Holden said.

Bone marrow recipients are most likely to find a match within their own racial and ethnic groups, Holden said, and only 7 percent of donors on the national registry are African-American.

“We want to make sure we are reaching all communities with a special emphasis on minorities,” Duffin said.

Donating bone marrow is not painful, Roberts said. With current methods, it is as easy as giving blood.

“It had no effect on me as a donor but to those who are waiting,” Roberts said, “it can be life saving.”