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Family Health History » Be The Match® executive Erica Jensen discusses how to save Black lives

Be The Match® executive Erica Jensen discusses how to save Black lives

Photo provided by Erica Jensen

Erica Jensen has 20 years of experience driving strategic growth for Fortune 500 corporations. She joined Be The Match® in 2019 as senior vice president of marketing of member engagement, enrollment and experience. Her work focuses on growing the Be The Match Registry® and eliminating disparities within multicultural communities so all patients with blood cancers and disorders — regardless of race or ethnicity — will have an equal chance at receiving life-saving treatment.

Rolling out spoke to Jensen about her community-building efforts and more.

Why should people join the Be The Match Registry?

Because we can save more Black lives. Be The Match is helping patients with blood cancers or other disorders — like sickle cell — find that their cure. The cure comes from a life-saving blood stem cell or marrow donation from a volunteer adult donor.

If you’re Black and you have one of these blood diseases and your physician suggests or recommends you get a blood stem cell or marrow transplant, you can only be helped 23% of the time, whereas if you are Caucasian, they can help about 77% of the time. This is because there currently aren’t enough Black donors on the registry to help Black patients.

We can change this by joining the registry. It is easy to click on the link at BeTheMatchATL.org and fill out the form. We’ll send you a swab kit in the mail. You’ll then just spend just 10 seconds on each side swabbing the inside of each cheek and then mail the kit back. We will notify you if you are matched with a searching patient. Because of the genetic complexity of matching donors to patients, it could be several months, or many years before you’re matched to a patient and asked to donate.

How important is it for the donor to be a good match?

Almost 70% of patients do not have a fully matched blood stem donor in their family. That means they need to search for an unrelated donor — someone who has the best HLA match for you and ethnicity does matter. You’re more likely to match with a donor who has and shares your similar ethnic background.

What is a good day at Be The Match?

The most memorable experiences that we have are when we are able to see a patient meet the donor who saved their life. I was honored to be a part of a meeting where there was a young woman from Chicago, and she had sickle cell. She was described as solemn, withdrawn, not very outgoing. The doctor who treated her as a pediatric patient said that once she got the bone marrow transplant and once she was in recovery, it was like she was a whole other person. Her life opened up and she started talking about going to college and having a career. She didn’t think she had much of a future because she knew the average lifespan of a patient with sickle cell, but once she was able to get that life-saving stem cell donation, it just changed her whole outlook on life.

To find out how you can join the Be The Match® Registry, visit BeTheMatchATL.org or text HEALTHIQ21 to 61474.