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Bone-marrow Drive to Be Held at Ethiopian Soccer Tournament in Seattle


After reading an article about a woman struggling to find a bone-marrow match that would save her life, a D.C.-based doctor organized a last-minute donor drive at an annual Ethiopian soccer tournament and cultural celebration this weekend

This weekend, an estimated 30,000 Ethiopians will flock to Renton (Washington State) for the annual Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America’s (ESFNA) annual soccer and cultural conference.

Visitors will be able to watch a 31-team soccer tournament, celebrate Ethiopian culture, and — in an attempt to save the life of a Vancouver, B.C., woman with leukemia — they’ll be able to register to be a bone-marrow donor.

Last month, The Seattle Times published a story about Elsa Nega, a mother of two who was looking to Seattle to find a bone-marrow match. Like many nonwhite people on the international bone-marrow registry, Elsa Nega, who is of Ethiopian descent, is struggling to find a match.

Ethiopian doctor Ermias Aytenfisu, who is based in Washington, D.C., and works at Howard University, read the story about Nega late last month. He reached out to Be The Match, a bone-marrow registry organization, and asked how he could help.

When Ermias realized there’d be thousands of Ethiopians in Seattle for the ESFNA conference, he pleaded with the organization to let him throw a drive at the event.

“The request did come in late,” conference spokesman Samson Mulugeta said. “But in the spirit of the community, we thought, logistically, we’d make it work.”

Conference organizers granted Aytenfisu and Be The Match space to educate visitors about bone-marrow donation, perform cheek swabs and register attendees on the spot. Doctors will volunteer their time to explain what donation entails, why there’s currently a lack of Ethiopian donors on the international registry and other health issues facing African communities.

“[Aytenfisu] knew what the cause was and he really took it to heart,” said Tori Fairhurst, Washington’s Be The Match representative.

While the goal is to find someone who is a match for Nega, she added, the more Ethiopians that register will help anyone with a similar ethnic makeup who needs a match.

Donors must be comfortable with the idea of donating to a stranger, Fairhurst said. It’s unlikely to find a specific match in a group of friends, but very possible a donor could match with someone across the country, or internationally.

The Be The Match registry tent will be set up from noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Renton Memorial Stadium.