Nurse Highlights Need for Minority Donors

August 6, 2014

The experience of having a loved one touched by a deadly illness is difficult, to say the least. But what must it be like to have two loved ones die at the hands of blood cancer? Three? Four? Most of us couldn’t imagine.

Nurse Donna Nicholson, cord blood coordinator at Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital, endured that reality.

 “In 1990, I had a close cousin diagnosed with leukemia at age 4. It was the first major illness in a child that had hit our large and close family,” said Donna, who’s been a nurse for 34 years.

Then another family member was diagnosed. And another. And another. All four were diagnosed and passed away between 1992 and 2000.

“Two cousins, who were brothers, were diagnosed in their mid-teens; neither made it beyond 22," Donna said. "Then another cousin was diagnosed with leukemia at 27. She died the same year she was diagnosed. She didn’t get a (marrow) match in time.”

Since then, Donna says she’s been an advocate of educating people to get on board and join the Be The Match registry, especially African Americans.

“The registry has always been short of African American donors and other minorities, but there is a huge population of African Americans with blood cancers out there," she said. "I am constantly trying to educate people on donation. But more specifically I encourage women delivering babies of every culture. Cord blood could be used to save lives, or even your own baby, so why not donate?”

National Minority Donor Awareness Week, Aug. 1-7, highlights the need for minorities to step up. The historically low number of minority marrow donors makes the chance of finding a match that much more difficult. Minority donors currently represent only 28 percent of the Be The Match registry.

“Because the markers used in matching are inherited, patients are more likely to match someone from their own race or ethnicity,” said Jon Hudson, marrow recruitment supervisor. “Adding more donors from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to the Be The Match registry increases the likelihood that all patients will find the match they need.”

Donna believes a lack of education is the biggest obstacle preventing people from donating.

“We need to get rid of the myths," she said. "The myth that there’s a cost to donate is a big one. (The truth is) it’s free, it doesn’t cost anything."

She said it’s her mission to help people get involved and aware about how donations can help save lives.

“Of every illness that affects us, African Americans have one of the highest mortality rates, which could be prevented,” Donna said. “I feel it is my duty, not as a nurse or employee, but as a person to bring awareness to my population.”

Get to know the myths and the facts here. Signing up to be a marrow donor is easy and pain free.  Find out more about how to join the Be The Match registry and more about the process here. 

Want to find out more about donating cord blood? See our blog post about cord blood donation.