After two members of one family developed cancer, they decided to stage a drive to get people to donate blood and register to donate bone marrow. That drive is Sunday in Ballard.

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In January 2010, Louisa Cryan, now 14, was diagnosed with leukemia. Four months later, she received stem cells from a donated umbilical cord. The healthy stem cells from the cord replaced Louisa’s damaged blood cells, reversing her leukemia.

A year after her transplant, her father, Sean Cryan, 49, learned he has myelodysplastic syndrome, or bone-marrow cancer. While awaiting a marrow transplant in August, Cryan and his family decided to organize a blood and bone-marrow drive to encourage underrepresented groups to donate blood and join the national marrow-donor registry. That drive is planned for Sunday at the Ballard Boys & Girls Club.

“With two family members both getting donations, we thought it’d be a good thing to do a donor drive,” said Sean Cryan, an architect.

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside bones that contains stem cells, which have the unique ability to develop into many different cell types. In the donation process, stem cells are extracted from the donor’s blood or marrow and later infused into the patient’s body, where they replace the damaged cells and multiply into healthy cells.

All it takes to join the marrow registry is 10 minutes of paperwork and a cheek swab with a cotton swab.

Perusing the National Marrow Donor Program website, Cryan discovered that minorities donate marrow at a significantly lower rate than Caucasians. He reached out to Tabor 100, a Bellevue-based economic-development organization for African Americans, and it agreed to help.

“This falls into the realm of social education and equity. We’re trying to educate our community on health concerns affecting our community,” said Carla Lee, Tabor 100 secretary. “Our mission is broad enough to involve our community with this blood and bone-marrow drive.”

On the national Be The Match Registry, a bone-marrow donor registry, Caucasians make up 71 percent of donors, Hispanics 10 percent, both African Americans and Asians 7 percent, mixed races 4 percent, Native Americans/Alaska Natives 1 percent and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander at 0.2 percent.

More than 70,000 of the 10 million people on the registry are from the Puget Sound region.

Among blood donors in Washington, 80 percent are Caucasian, 7 percent Asian and Pacific Islander, 4 percent Hispanic and 2 percent African American. There’s a push to find more donors in the Hispanic community because the percentage of donors who are Hispanic is smaller than the percentage of Hispanics in the state population, said Puget Sound Blood Center spokesman Dave Larsen. Other groups match or are close to matching their populations.

Among Asian Americans, he said, former Gov. Gary Locke was instrumental in boosting donation numbers.

Reducing the racial disparities in bone-marrow donations is one of the blood center’s priorities.

In Seattle, Puget Sound Blood Center donor/recruiter Tanya Nobles said she recently coordinated drives with Chinese employees at Microsoft, the Seattle Buddhist Church and The Evergreen State College Black Student Union, and she has an upcoming event with the Chehalis tribe. In the past two years, she said, she’s seen more than 3,000 local residents add their names to the registry.

“Unfortunately, right now, people of color are very underrepresented on the national registry,” Nobles said. “That translates into minority patients having a much more difficult time finding a match.” Some die waiting for a match. Race and ethnicity compatibility between the donor and the patient is an issue because of human leukocyte antigens, or HLA proteins, which the immune system uses to decide which cells belong in the body and which do not, according to information from the National Marrow Donor Program. A donor must have very similar HLA proteins, and for most recipients, donors from the same racial or ethnic group can be matches. Roughly 70 percent of patients will not find a donor in their own families.

To donate marrow, it is not always necessary to have the surgical procedure that removes marrow from the pelvic bone. Many donors undergo peripheral blood stem-cell donation, a noninvasive procedure during which they receive daily injections for five days to increase the number of stem cells in the bloodstream. On the sixth day, the donor will have an IV treatment where a machine separates the stem cells and returns the remaining blood to the body. Donors go home the same day, though soreness may last a few days.

On Sunday, Cryan hopes to see 38 blood donors — the most the blood center can take — and double that number of marrow donors. “I would be ecstatic if we can get 80 and have more people in the stem-cell world,” he said. “That would be really great.”

Kibkabe Araya: 206-464-2266 or

On Twitter @kibkabe.