Central Texas woman searching for bone marrow match

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Registry experts say it’s tougher for biracial people to find a match

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lizzie Tennyson was diagnosed with cancer again just four days before she was supposed to attend the school she’s always wanted to – The University of Texas at Austin. Tennyson, 21, has dreams to study computer engineering. 

She’s still holding onto those goals as she continues to search for a bone marrow donor match. She went into remission last week for the fifth time.  

“There are so many things I want to do with my life,” she added. “I want to go back to school. I want to graduate. I want to get married and have my own family one day. I want all of that.” 

Tennyson was at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin where GenCure, in partnership with Be The Match, held a donor registry drive.  

“I’ve been looking for one since I was 16,” she said. “I’m about to turn 22.” 

Tennyson was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2011, when she was 13. It’s a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Her mother, Susan Tennyson, was by her side at the registry drive. 

“We have to find her a donor,” she said. “We have to find a match to be able to save her life. That’s kind of all we have left right now.” 

Getting onto the registry is simple. People can sign up online and all that’s needed are two swabs of both cheeks. 

According to Be the Match, people who are biracial, like Tennyson, have a tougher time finding a donor.  

“Right now, it’s much easier for a Caucasian to find a match than it is for any other ethnic group,” Samuel Hillhouse, community services with GenCare, said. “It’s our goal to diversify the registry to give everybody an equal outcome, to give everyone an equal shot at a match regardless of race or ethnicity.” 

The organization says there are nearly 900 patients in Texas searching for a bone marrow or stem cell donor match and Texans have facilitated almost 7,000 transplants. People between the ages of 18 and 44 are most urgently needed because they are often requested by transplant doctors more than 86 percent of the time, Be The Match says.  

“Research shows that these donors provide the greatest chance for transplant success,” a fact sheet from the group says. 

However, a match isn’t always a guarantee that a donation will occur. 

“Unfortunately, about half the donors that we call will decline to donate, which is heartbreaking for us,” Hillhouse said. “It’s heartbreaking for that patient, so we encourage everyone who comes to be committed to donating if they get a call.” 

Tennyson says she plans on being at registry drives as much as possible. She wants to connect with others who are her around her age.  

“It’s just really important to realize that it’s a really simple thing to do,” she said. “I feel like you’re doing something so simple to save someone else’s life. I think if more people realized how easy it is and realized that you’re being someone else’s hero, I feel that anyone who wants to do something, getting on that bone marrow and stem cell registry is really important.” 

Anyone who is interested in getting a kit to join the registry can text “LIZZIE” to 614-74. They can also visit the link to join the Be The Match Registry.

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