The National Marrow Donor Program and its local donor center, NMDP of Oregon/Southwest Washington, are working with the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Blood Region to encourage people to come together. The groups are asking local African Americans to join the NMDP registry during the Martin Luther King Jr. Blood and Bone Marrow Drive from Jan. 16 through 21. "We are appealing to … African Americans to unite in a mission to save lives," said Delores Rue-Jones, program coordinator for NMDP of Oregon/Southwest Washington. "We are encouraging people to come to the Portland donor center for the drive or the MLK Celebration at Jefferson High School on Jan. 16. "Blood donors can learn about volunteer marrow and blood-cell donation," Rue-Jones added. "The more donors we have, the larger the search through the registry, which increases the chance to find a match for patients." Each year, thousands of African American families have a loved one diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disease, such as leukemia. Many could be treated with a marrow or blood cell transplant — if a matching donor could be found. Right now, Jarraye Hicks, a 15-year-old freshman at Jefferson High School, is diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Today, there is no bone marrow match for him in the NMDP. "You could be that donor," Rue-Jones said. "When you join the NMDP registry as a committed donor, you unite with more than 5 million potential donors who know the importance of being there for a patient in need of a life-saving transplant of marrow or blood cells." The NMDP works with African American civic, community and faith-based organizations to raise awareness around the country and encourage more people to join the NMDP registry, the world's largest source for all types of marrow and blood cells available for transplant. While patients of any racial or ethnic heritage may have difficulty finding a donor for their transplant, African American patients face the greatest challenge. Some patients have rare tissue traits that can make it more difficult for them to find a donor. In March 2005, Jackie Donahue, sister of hip-hop superstar Nelly, lost her battle with leukemia. Jackie, Nelly and their aunt, created the Jes Us 4 Jackie awareness campaign to recruit more African Americans and people of mixed heritage to join the NMDP registry of potential donors. That need is still immediate and ongoing. Marrow and blood-cell transplants require matching certain tissue traits of the donor and patient. Because these traits are inherited, a patient's most likely match is someone of the same heritage. Although millions of potential donors have registered, there is a pressing need for more donors from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, particularly within the African American community, to increase the likelihood of finding a match for patients. The first step to becoming a donor is to join the NMDP registry. Volunteers must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and meet health guidelines. After completing a brief health questionnaire, the volunteer gives a small sample of blood to determine the tissue type to be matched against patients who need donors. To make an appointment at the Red Cross donor center, call 503-284-4040. The center is located at 3131 N. Vancouver Ave. For more information about marrow and blood-cell donation, call 503-528-5475 or 1-800-MARROW. Online information is available at www.marrow.org.