Seven-year-old Baylor Fredrickson loves math, sports, and Greek mythology. His mom says he’s “the sweetest boy you’ll ever meet.” But Baylor is also battling for his life. He has an acute form of leukemia, and he needs a bone marrow transplant to keep the blood cancer at bay.
Unfortunately for Baylor, that’s easier said than done. The second grader is half Japanese and half German, and in order to find a match, he needs a mixed race donor who is also Asian and Caucasian. But racially diverse bone marrow donors are hard to find. Just two percent of the people registered with the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry are multiracial.
Finding a bone marrow match is even more difficult than finding a match for other types of organs. Seventy percent of patients can’t even find a match within their immediate family. That’s because all of the immune system’s cells come from bone marrow. So if a patient receives a transplant that isn’t a good enough genetic match, white blood cells will perceive the patient’s entire body as foreign material that should be attacked and destroyed, resulting in a life-threatening condition called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Matches very rarely occur across different ethnic groups.
Baylor isn’t the first mixed race American to struggle to find a blood marrow donor. Every year, over 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with potentially fatal blood diseases like leukemia. But as the country’s population becomes increasingly diverse — between 2000 and 2010, the number of Americans who consider themselves to be multiracial grew faster than those who identify as belonging to a single race — many of those patients are faced with few options.
Now, advocacy groups like Mixed Marrow and Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) are dedicated to reaching out to more racially diverse Americans to encourage them to donate. A3M conducts over 500 annual donor recruitment drives in the African American, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, Korean, Filipino, South Asian, and Vietnamese communities.
This isn’t the only example of racial disparities within the medical field. Clinical trials are overwhelmingly white, which prevents researchers from developing effective health treatments for diverse patients. For example, Asian patients suffering from lung cancer are more likely to possess a certain genetic mutation that affects the way they respond to traditional chemotherapy, so they need other options. Nonetheless, research into the diseases that disproportionately affect non-white people remain underfunded.
Baylor’s family is doing everything they can to spread the word. They set up a Facebook page, and they’re holding donor registration drives in their California area this week. Baylor’s dad, Rob Fredrickson, told a local ABC affiliate that the seven-year-old understands it could be difficult to find a match. “He’s spoken to us about the possibility that he may pass away. He’s well aware of his own situation,” Fredrickson said.