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How an Ethnic Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Donor Can Help Save This African American Teen’s Life

Photo: Courtesy of Be the Match

Juwan Adams just graduated high school and while he’s looking forward to starting college, his biggest goal is finding a stem cell/bone marrow donor to save his life.

Four years ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer that originates in the lymphatic system. He needs a donor but finding a match has been challenging. That’s because there aren’t many minorities registered to donate stem cells or bone marrow. 


Adams was a young teen when he started having problems breathing and unexplained weight loss. At first his doctor thought it was asthma but his mother advocated for more testing. Months later, he developed pneumonia and a 104 fever. An X-ray at the hospital showed Adams had a large tumor in his chest; he also had small tumors in is lymph system. Doctors diagnosed him with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and started chemotherapy that day.

Adams has gone through many cycles of chemo and radiation. Since his cancer has spread to his liver, he’s now eligible to participate in clinical trials, if he qualifies for them.

Still his best chance of survival is finding a stem cell/bone marrow match from an ethnic donor. Here’s why: blood markers are inherited and some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others. His situation is challenging because African Americans have just a 23 percent chance of finding a match on the Be the Match registry.

Finding a match

Be the Match, which is operated by the non-profit National Marrow Donor Program, connects patients and donor matches for a life-saving marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants. 

Adams and his family are passionate about raising awareness of children’s cancers and highlighting the need for more minority donors on the Be The Match donor registry. 

He’s been working with the group to hopefully find a stem cell/bone marrow donor match. Potential donors can go to join.bethematch.org or text “savejuwan” to 61474. They can order and return a cheek swab kit via Be the Match to see if they’re a match for Juwan or another person in need. 

For the best possible outcome for patients, the majority of donors matched and selected are between the ages of 18 and 44. Research shows cells from younger donors result in more successful transplants. 


Even though Adams hasn’t found his match yet, he’s reached his goal of signing up 10,000 new donors. He’s hopeful the donors who have signed up will be a match for another person in need. 

“This could save my life,” he says. “But we’re also looking to save a lot of other people’s lives. So we need to come together and just make it happen. We can all do this together.”

Positive attitude

The 18-year-old honors student, who was a drummer in his high school’s marching band, lives with his family outside Philadelphia. A Facebook page called, “Prayers for Juwan” tracks his progress. 

He’s shared his story throughout local and national media, including “Good Morning America,” where the New York Giants fan was interviewed by one of his football heroes, Michael Strahan. Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle has been inspired by Adams and encouraged people to sign up for the registry. Five years ago, Thybulle’s mother died from leukemia, another blood cancer.

Adam is always thinking about how he can help others in need, including collecting items throughout the year for his annual toy and book drive for kids at the children’s oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he receives care. Last year, he collected 7000 toys and 10,000 books.

Despite the tough odds of finding a match, he’s staying positive. “I believe that the attitude is what helps you beat it,” he says.

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