Emru in all his fuzzy-headed splendour.
You may know Emru Townsend as an animation or technology writer and blogger. You might have run into him at an animation event or conference. A husband and father, you may know him as an old or new friend. Or you might not know him at all.

In mid-December 2007, Emru was diagnosed with leukemia, and a condition called monosomy 7. Due to the monosomy 7, he had an increased risk of the leukemia coming back, no matter how successful chemotherapy was. This is when he found out that everyday people could help save his life.

Emru needed a bone marrow transplant. This kind of therapy is administered through a transplant of bone marrow stem cells from a matching donor. About 70% of people now receive a transplant of stem cells found in circulating blood from a matching donor. The highest chances for a match are from siblings, but his only sister was not a match. As a result, his doctors turned to national and international bone marrow registries to find a compatible donor. There are over 12 million donors worldwide, but there was still no guarantee that he would find a match: The chances of matching another person can be as high 1 in 450 or lower than 1 in 750,000 depending on the genetic variance within a population. For a donor search, time is of the essence as the optimal window of opportunity is in the first few months after remission.

It's easy for healthy, eligible adults to become a potential donor:
  1. Find out if your country has a registry and contact it online or by phone.
  2. You must complete a form consenting to be added to the registry.
  3. Provide a mouth swab or a blood sample. That's it!
Emru, his family, and everyone else who has ever waited or is currently waiting for a compatible donor thank you for taking action.

A broad and diverse array of donors are required because the chance of finding a match requires finding the right combination of matching human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) between donor and recipient. While anyone, anywhere can be a potential match, his best chance for a match came from a donor who shares his ethnic background. As the son of two African Carribean parents, his chances were further diminished as blacks are underrepresented in bone marrow registries worldwide.

You can help by registering for your country's bone marrow registry and spreading the word about the need to diversify its database. In June 2008, a potential match was found for Emru in the system. This is a single match: if the donor had refused or changed their mind, there were no backups. Emru received a bone marrow transplant in September 2008.

While the donor's stem cells completely engrafted and began producing healthy blood cells, Emru could never get into full remission and always had some leukemic cells in his body, which continued to spread, and he died peacefully on November 11, 2008. However, there are people who are in a much better position to recover fully from a stem cell transplant who never find a donor and have no choice but to suffer the same fate as Emru. Registering can help save one of the other 16000 patients worldwide waiting for a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant.

Where's My Local Registry?