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Mom searches for African-American stem cell donor for her son

Posted at 7:30 PM, Jul 16, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — A 10-year-old boy is fighting for his life inside Riley Hospital for children. He's waiting for a life-saving donation, one that his mother fears might not come.

"When I officially found out, it was like my whole world just shut down," Juanita Perkins said.

Perkins' son, Brian, has leukemia. He was first diagnosed last November. But then, it came back. He's now in need of a bone marrow transplant because he relapsed so early.

"When they told me he needed a donor I knew that it was a slim chance because African-Americans just don't donate like that," Perkins said. "So it was like so devastating to me because I'm like, 'OK, I need to figure out something.'"

According to Dr. Jodi Skiles, Brian has a 23 percent chance of finding the exact donor he needs because fewer of the African-American community are registered stem cell donors. Whereas for organ donation it simply requires a blood type match, stem cell requires specific DNA.

"There's a huge gap there in terms of African-American healthy people signing up to be donors, which means that African-American patients are less likely to find a suitable donor," Skiles, IU Health pediatric stem cell transplant medical director, said.

"I think because we are not educated on being a donor and I think more too because we are afraid to be a donor," Perkins said.

Brian and his mother haven't left the hospital since June 17. He's receiving chemotherapy in the meantime to get into remission so he can be eligible when that transplant does come.

"You could save a child," Perkins said. "Not just my child, another child that's in the same situation that we are in."

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