Three years ago this week, aspiring Olympian Seun Adebiyi got a cord-blood transplant that saved his life. He now travels internationally to encourage others to join bone marrow registries or to donate cord blood so fellow cancer patients get the same chance he has been given.
Adebiyi, 29, also is trying to qualify for Nigeria's 2014 Winter Olympics team in skeleton, a one-man, headfirst sled.
Adebiyi will be in Omaha on Monday to meet with doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to foster relationships that could help the country of his birth. He'll also speak about his efforts to get blacks in the U.S. and elsewhere to undergo a cheek swab that could lead to life-saving marrow donations.
His Olympic aspirations, he said, give him another forum through which he can tell people about the need for marrow donors. He hopes the effort also shows people that cancer isn't a death sentence, he said.
Adebiyi, who moved to Alabama when he was 6, first noticed a lump in the lymph nodes in his groin in January 2009, during his last year at Yale Law School. After graduating, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia.
In his search for a marrow donor, he learned that his best chance for a match was from someone within his own ethnic group. He wanted to host a bone marrow drive in Nigeria, but Nigeria lacked a bone marrow registry. He organized a cheek-swab drive there anyway.
Just as he was preparing to fly to Nigeria, he received a call from his doctor telling him that a Nigerian woman in the U.S. had donated her baby's cord blood to a cord-blood bank, and it was a good match for him. He still flew to Nigeria and brought the cheek swabs back with him to the States.
A couple of months later, he got the cord-blood infusion in New York and has been in remission since.
“Last year, we officially launched a bone marrow registry in Nigeria,” Adebiyi said. “Since then, I've received a request from Kenya and Ghana to help them create donor registries.”
Such registries are important for people with blood cancers, sickle cell anemia and other life-threatening diseases. Those people need donors who are a genetic match.
The U.S. bone marrow registry Be the Match consists of the records of 10 million people. Although blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they represent just 7 percent of the registry.
“We are the fix for our own community members,” said Nadya Dutchin, a Be the Match representative who is black.
The registry could use more potential donors of all races, she said.
“It is extremely important that we have people from the same ethnic community available for transplant.”
Adebiyi wants to establish ties to medical centers across the country to assist the organization he started in Nigeria. A relationship with UNMC is a natural, he said, because it “has one of the finest stem cell transplant programs in the world.”
Adebiyi's talk, which is open to the public, is set for noon Monday in the Sorrell Center for Health Science Education at 42nd and Emile Streets.
Dutchin, from Be the Match, said people with questions about the registry can call her at 877-601-1926, ext. 7727.
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