After her cousin was diagnosed with two forms of blood cancer, Goizueta Business School graduate Ronke Adebiyi (’10B) is trying to find 10,000 new minority donors to register for the National Bone Marrow Registry.
Seun Adebiyi, a 26-year-old graduate from Yale Law School and an Olympic hopeful, was diagnosed in August 2009 with both leukemia and lymphoma.
In order to recover, Ronke said, Seun will need a bone marrow transplant. While 30 percent of patients find matches within their family, the other 70 percent must rely on strangers on the registry.
“There are not enough people on the registry to find a match,” Ronke said. “It’s very much tied to your genetics.”
According to Ronke, matches must be found within a patient’s race.
For the past four months, Seun has been working on an initiative to find 10,000 new minority donors to add to the registry, Ronke said.
“There’s a huge gap in the type of donor we need,” she explained.
Of the 8.3 million people currently on the registry, 74 percent are Caucasian, 10 percent Hispanic, 7 percent black, 7 percent Asian, 3 percent multiracial and 1 percent American Indian, according to statistics by DKMS Americas, a non-profit organization that originated in Germany and recruits bone marrow donors.
Eighty-three percent of blacks who are diagnosed with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma are unable to find bone marrow donor matches and are closely followed by the 81 percent of American Indians who don’t have matches, among others.
Both Ronke and Seun are Nigerian, Ronke said, and there are even fewer Nigerians on the registry.
Only four out of 10 patients will receive transplants, according to the same statistics.
Seun, who has been in and out of the hospital since September, has recruited friends and family to hold drives in New York, at Yale University, in Houston and in Atlanta, where Ronke has been reaching out to the Emory community.
Ronke said that she has received a lot of assistance from the B-School, but said that she is hoping to see the same support from other departments within the University.
Last week, Ronke held a registration drive at Emory that garnered 135 new donors. Ronke said that typically, a successful drive will yield about 100 new donors.
Until patients such as Seun can receive a bone marrow transplant, they receive cord transplants to extend their lifespan, Ronke said.
“This is the next best thing,” Ronke said of the transplants that involve taking stem cells from a newborn’s umbilical cord and require a two-month recovery period.
Seun, an aspiring swimmer and skeleton racing athlete, missed the swimming qualifications for the 2008 Summer Olympics by one-tenth of a second, Ronke said. Seun had been training as an Olympic hopeful in skeleton racing when he was diagnosed.
Seun is currently in the hospital and was unavailable for comment.
Ronke said that Seun has remained hopeful throughout the diagnosis and treatment.
“He’s at a point where he has no choice but to be optimistic. He can’t do anything but hope to beat the odds,” Ronke said. “He faces death every day.”
Seun’s goal is not just to find a donor match for himself, but also to save the lives of others.
“Seun’s mission is to save more lives,” Ronke said. “He’s made friends and he’s lost friends. We hope we can find him a match, and we hope we can help others find matches.”
Ronke said that she plans on holding more bone marrow donor registration drives at Emory and within the Atlanta community but has not set any exact dates.
— Contact Alice Chen