Health

Match Drive at Commanders' Draft Party Seeks Stem Cell Donor for 13-Year-Old

Potential donors can get their cheeks swabbed to see if they're a match

Twelve thousand people are looking for bone marrow or stem cell donors each year, according to Be The Match, an organization that pairs bone marrow and stem cell donors with those in need.

Among them is 13-year-old Collin from Virginia. Now a Washington Commanders superfan is taking Collin's fight to the field.

Collin has been through more than many of us can imagine. In 2020, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Collin received stem cells from his dad, but earlier this year, his family got the news they hoped they'd never hear.

"Unfortunately this past January, Colin relapsed, and other than raising money, I was trying to think of what can we do to try and help Colin out," said Commanders superfan Ted Abela, or "Tailgate Ted," as he's known.

Abela heard about Collin and wanted to help. So he reached out to the Commanders to set up a stem cell donor drive, which will be happening at Thursday night's draft party.

"They're very appreciative that some good can come out of, you know, a draft party where we're just kind of celebrating football," he said.

Potential donors can get their cheeks swabbed to see if they're a match. While it might not sound like a fun draft-night activity, the process takes less than a minute and it could potentially save a life.

"It's a very simple, painless process," said Erica Sevilla with Be The Match.

Sevilla says they really need people between the ages of 18 and 40 to sign up, especially those of different ethnicities.

"So many individuals don't realize that your ethnicity matters in being a blood stem cell match for a patient. And so unfortunately, there is a disparity on the Be The Match registry," Sevilla said.

According to Be The Match, white patients find a stem cell match 79% of the time, while Asian and Hispanic patients find a match less than 50% of the time. For Black and African American patients, that number drops to just 29%. Collin is of Asian descent, making it that much more important for more people to show up and sign up.

"I'm Asian American," Abela said. "So it really spoke volumes to me, where I would like to see if I could be a match for Collin. But if I don't match for Collin, then there are so many other people on this registry that need help."

"I've actually reached out to some Asian restaurant owners in the area, to see if we can do similar campaigns, donor drives at their establishments," Abela said. "I'm working with the Bullpen down by Nats Park to organize a kind of a Asian food truck festival down there, where frankly, we're trying to stack the deck to help Collin out, help other Asian Americans out and just really minorities in general."

Collin is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Boy of the Year.

If his story inspires you to sign up for the registry, you can find a link here, or you can head to Thursday night’s draft party at FedEx Field.

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