The Perfect Match: Bone Marrow Donation

Keisha Worthington

Five-year-old Isaiah Garay of Phoenix was diagnosed with leukemia last fall. Doctors say a bone marrow transplant is his only hope for a cure.

"Our biggest dream is that if he does find a donor, that he will be well," said Adam Garay, Isaiah's dad.

Isaiah's parents and sister were tested to be donors but weren't a match. Only 30 percent of patients who need bone marrow transplants find a match within their families, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports.

Adam and Connie Garay, Isaiah's parents, are holding bone marrow drives in their community in order to increase their son's chances of finding a donor.

Because he's Hispanic, Isaiah's quest is more challenging. All minorities have a more diverse genetic profile, so a higher number of potential donors are needed to increase the chances of finding a match.

"Our life mission right now is to get people educated," Adam Garay said.

For African-Americans, it is even more difficult.

Twenty-one-year-old Keisha Worthington of Chicago was among those hoping a donor would be found to help her beat leukemia.

"I need to announce to more African Americans and other minorities that they need to go out there and donate," Worthington said.

Over the past few years, signing up to donate has become easier. A simple cheek swab can put you on the list. Potential donors gathered at a recent bone marrow drive at the police academy in New York City. About 10,000 police officers and firefighters around the country join the registry every year.

If your swab is a match, and you are chosen to be a donor, life-saving cells can now be collected through an almost painless technique similar to giving blood. It is often easier and less invasive than the traditional way of extracting bone under general anesthesia.

But how often is a match made?

"Every single day through our program, we facilitate 10 transplants," said Dr. Jeffrey Chell of the National Marrow Donor Program. "This year we will have 3,600 people who will find that gift of life, find that perfect match."

But what about those who don't?

"And those are we appeal for more people to join our registry, and that is where our real need is," Chell said.

Luckily, Keisha Worthington defied the odds and found a donor.

"I know it's a man; that's all I know," she said. "I just want to tell him thank you very much and you probably saved my life."

Read Keisha's mother's blog about her transplant.
Find out how to become a bone marrow donor.

So far, so good. Worthington is doing well after her transplant.

But like Isaiah, 6,000 patients a day are still waiting for a match. Now that there are less-invasive techniques for both testing and donating, more people will sign up, and more lives will be saved.