North Bay woman in need of bone marrow transplant as demand for donor diversity grows

ByGloria Rodriguez KGO logo
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
North Bay woman searching for bone marrow transplant, donors needed
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Be the Match says African Americans have a 29 percent chance of finding a match for a bone marrow transplant. Here's what Santa Rosa resident Debbie Grizzard needs to find a match.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Rosa resident Debbie Grizzard is battling myelofibrosis, a bone marrow cancer.

Her only cure is a bone marrow transplant but she's having a hard time finding a donor.

"I'm difficult to match because first of all, African Americans only have a 29 percent match rate because there's so few people in the donor registry," Grizzard said.

The biracial retired VA nurse got a transplant in 2019, but her cancer has progressed. Now, she needs another one.

"If I do not find a match, my disease can progress to the point of leukemia, which is a very serious bone marrow disease," Grizzard said. "The hardest part is the unknown. And the hardest part is you say, 'What if this doesn't work? What if this? What if that.'"

Be the Match said the likelihood of finding a match is based on ethnicity. Fewer people of color are on the registry and they want to change that.

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Kristen Bates, of Be the Match in Northern California, said African Americans have a 29 percent chance of finding a match, Asians have a 47 percent chance and Latinos have a 48 percent chance.

Compare that to Europeans, who have a 79 percent chance. They want to make those numbers equal.

Bates said they're working on getting more ethnically diverse people enrolled on the registry. She said they're looking for people ages 18 to 40 to donate.

"About 90 percent of the time, it's stem cells through the arm," Bates said. "So it's a lot like giving platelets. It's not very invasive. Really, the most our former donors say is your arm is a little sore from... the needle. About 10 percent of the time physicians will ask for marrow through the back of the hip. This seems very scary, very invasive.. The procedure has been upgraded since it was back in the 80s when Be the Match started."

Grizzard, 71, is hopeful she'll find a donor so she can keep doing the things she loves, such as traveling.

"It's very scary," Grizzard said. "But the main thing is it gave me a new outlook on life. That's why you do certain things, to enjoy life. No one knows how long we have. But with the time I have, I am attempting to live my life the best of my ability."

VIDEO: Robin Roberts marks 10 years since lifesaving bone marrow transplant: How to become a donor

Robin Roberts surprised the nurses to say thank you live on 'Good Morning America.'

Be the Match said only 30 percent of patients who need a bone marrow transplant find a match in their families. Seventy percent turn to Be the Match to find an unrelated donor.

Join the donor registry here

To get on the registry, it takes a simple swab.

You can register online or by texting KGO to 61474.

You'll get a kit to do the swab and see if you are a match for someone and help save a life.

Next week marks a major milestone for Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts.

It will be 10 years since Robin returned to the anchor desk, after receiving a life-saving bone marrow transplant.

To celebrate Robin's road to recovery, ABC7 News and the ABC-owned TV stations across the country are teaming up to get more people on the bone marrow registry.