EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — A 5-year-old boy from El Paso is shining a light on a medical need in our community. Dak Lopez, who moved to Dallas with his family a couple years ago, was diagnosed with leukemia in April after several trips to the doctor.

“I’ll never forget that day. We took him to the doctor for the third time because he just wasn’t getting better.” said Dak’s father, Adam Lopez. “I knew something was wrong the moment [doctors] drew his blood, came in — quickly — within five minutes, and the oncologist that was there that day looked at me with this concerned look on her face. She says, ‘we’re going to have to do more tests.'”

Tests revealed Dak’s white blood cell count was nearly 10 times greater than that of a normal count, which led to his eventual diagnosis. He began chemotherapy immediately, but he would need one specific bone marrow transplant.

“They told me it’s going to be tough. He’s [Hispanic and] going to need another Hispanic donor, and there’s not a lot of Hispanic donors on the registry,’ said Adam. “I asked what would happen if he didn’t get the transplant… ‘she said, he’ll die.'”

According to Dak’s doctors, matching a patient like Dak with a bone marrow donor has little to do with blood types, but rather ethnicity. However, being Hispanic, the likeliness of finding a perfect match donor for Dak was lower than people of other ethnic backgrounds.

“For Hispanic people, only about half of people who go through the registry are actually able to find a match,” said Dr. Victor Aquino, a professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a bone marrow transplantation expert. “You have a 25 percent match likeliness for a full brother or sister and then about a 50 percent chance to find a donor on the registry. That’s less than Caucasian people or people of other nationalities.”

According to ‘Be the Match,’ the national marrow donor program, 70 percent of patients do not have a fully matched donor in their family and rely on the Nation’s Registry to find their potentially life-saving match. Over 75 percent of diseases can be cured or treated through bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant.

Even with 38 million people on the registry, there was still no match for Dak. The Lopez family then hosted two drives in Dak’s hometown of El Paso over the summer to find him a potential match in a community made up of mostly Hispanics. These two drives also went towards helping find matches for other Hispanic patients in need of a life-saving transplant. The Lopez family telling KTSM that a total of 350 people were swabbed and put on the registry. Another 800 people registered online, however, there was still no match for Dak.

“I hope one day we can find a match — not only for Dak, but for someone else — through Dak’s drives,” said Adam.

Southwest Transplant Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to organ and tissue donation in Texas, tells KTSM they also see disproportionate numbers when it comes to a need for more Hispanic donors of any kind, not just bone marrow.

“Our Latino communities are 1.5 times more likely to need a transplant in their lifetime, but far less likely to register,” said director of marketing and communications Kelli James. “People think of the transplant waiting list and sometimes they think of a numbered list where the person at the top of the list gets access to that next available organ. Instead, it’s looking for the best match. It’s not always the first person on the list, it’s the best match to who’s closest to the top of the list.”

Time was of the essence in Dak’s case. His cancer is currently in remission, but without a transplant, it was likely to return. Doctors decided to go with the best match available for Dak, his father Adam, who is a 6-out-of-10 match, but not as high as doctors would like to see.

“We can use parents,” said Dr. Aquino. “We know they aren’t as good of donors, but he’s the best for Dak at this time.”

According to Aquino, a 6-out-of-10 match essentially means there’s a 60 percent chance the transplant will be successful.

“He’s feeling comfort already with all the tests that I have to go do with him, all the lab work — they’re poking me — and he’s watching me saying, ‘hey dad, it’s your turn,” said Adam.

As KTSM reported, Dak received his transplant last week at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. The family telling KTSM the transplant procedure went as expected and Dak is currently resting at the hospital where he will be monitored for the next 40-100 days. Dak’s doctors tell KTSM it will be at least two weeks before knowing if the transplant was successful.

“We are just praying for the best,” said Adam. “Everyday we are praying that this transplant works, and hopefully it’s the only one he’ll need.”

KTSM will continue to follow this story with updates from the Lopez family on-air and online.

To register to become a bone marrow donor, text ‘elpasocares’ to 61474. You can register to become an organ donor here.

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