Sometimes a tragedy will motivate people to action. Such was the case when the Bria T. Chism Foundation was started. Bria was a bright, happy, African-American kindergartner who passed away July 2, 1999 at the age of 6. She fought a long hard battle with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.
Her passing motivated her family to start the Bria T. Chism Foundation whose mission is to increase awareness of the need of bone marrow donations in the minority communities. The foundation is a 501©(3) non-profit organization and does accept donations.
During the course of Bria’s illness, her family learned some very hard facts. Being an African-American reduced Bria’s chance of getting a match for the needed bone marrow transplant. A match is considered ideal when six key tissue-typing proteins match between the patient and the donor.
A match is more likely when both the donor and patient are from the same ethnic group, but blacks are harder to match genetically than whites. Also blacks and other minorities are greatly underrepresented on the bone marrow registries.
According to the Heart of America Bone Marrow Registry, only 20 percent of blacks find a bone marrow match, while 50 percent of Hispanics and 80 percent Caucasians do. A match was eventually found for Bria, but only after searching overseas. The transplant was a success; unfortunately other aspects of the illness had overtaken the 6-year-old’s fragile body. She was just too weak to keep going. She died in her Grandfather Walter’s arms.
On March 25, the Bria T. Chism Foundation registered 33 new donors in its first minority bone marrow drive. Since then the foundation has assisted in a drive for James Powell, an African American barber suffering from leukemia, which resulted in an additional 43 new donors during the Kansas City Ethnic Festival in August. Watch for announcements for a planned citywide bone marrow drive in the month of September, which is National Bone Marrow Awareness Month.
The Chism family knows there may be many obstacles ahead, but feel that working with agencies like the Heart of America Bone Marrow Registry, and with area churches like Trinity Temple and Memorial Baptist Church will help them reach their ultimate goal of a nationwide bone marrow registration drive.