COLUMBUS, GA - Hundreds of Aflac agents and employees will be queuing up in the next few days to have their cheeks swabbed as part of a new company initiative to boost the rolls of the National Marrow Donor Program. Aflac's Bone Marrow program kicks off at the company's annual national sales conference on December 12 in Atlanta.
The bone marrow registration effort was inspired by Steve Karas, an Aflac regional sales coordinator in Boston, whose stem cell donation recently helped save the life of Matthew Welling, a young Aflac claimant in New York. Matthew's parents had been told that without a transplant, he stood little chance of living beyond childhood. Matthew's doctors searched the National Bone Marrow registry for a donor and found Steve Karas.
"Through Steve's story we learned more about the pressing need for bone marrow registrants and wanted to do something as an organization to help," said Paul Amos, president and chief operating officer of the Georgia-based insurance company.
Indeed, the need is great. Individuals with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma must find a donor whose tissue type matches their own. Ideal candidates for a match are usually from the same ethnic background and race. The National Marrow Donor Program has about 11 million registrants today, but 61 percent of patients who need a bone marrow transplant do not receive one. And that's just among Caucasians. Among other racial groups, the match rate is far lower. For instance, about 83 percent of African Americans in need of a transplant do not receive one because African Americans are severely underrepresented on the donor registry. Individuals from racially or ethnically diverse heritage represent only 26 percent of the entire donor registry.
"On a daily basis, about 6,000 people search the registry looking for a life-saving match," said Dr. William G. Woods, director of the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "Increasing the pool of registrants increases the likelihood of a match, and will save lives."