I was diagnosed with sickle cell disease when I was two weeks old. I'm 16 now, and even though I've been sick my whole life, I'm still a very hopeful person.

But one thing I don't hope for is a cure.

Why not?

Because there's no need to hope -- a possible cure already exists. It's a bone-marrow transplant. And I need one. For me, it could be a matter of life and death.

Unfortunately, I can't find a marrow donor who matches my genetic profile. The main problem is that not enough African-Americans are joining the Be The Match Registry, which is the national list of people willing to donate marrow to a patient in need.

People who need a transplant are more likely to find a matching donor within their own racial or ethnic group. Because there aren't as many African-Americans on the marrow registry, people like me with blood diseases and blood cancers have a lot harder time finding a match.

According to Be The Match, the chances of an African-American person finding a match on the registry is 66 percent. For white people, it's 93 percent.

This isn't right. But it's not hard to fix. We just need more people of all races, including African-Americans, to join the registry. We especially need people between the ages of 18 to 44 to join.


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I'm doing all I can to spread the word. My mother and I have been organizing registration drives all over the Bay Area. Even if I don't find a match for me, I know I might be helping other people find the cure that could save their lives.

There are thousands of people in need across the country. In California, there are nearly 900 people who are looking for a marrow match, but can't find one.

I know how hard it is to wait, knowing there is a possible cure out there, but not being able to find it. Imagine if you or someone you love was in the same position.

It's easy to join the registry. All you do is fill out a form and get your cheek swabbed. You can join at a recruitment center or during a registry drive. You can even get a do-it-yourself kit from www.BeTheMatch.org.

If you're a match for someone in need, donating marrow is not scary. In most cases, the donation is made during a nonsurgical procedure that's similar to donating plasma.

I have struggled throughout my life with my health because I've been in the hospital more than I'm home. I equally struggle to stay on track in school and do normal teenage things.

Yet, my dreams outweigh my struggles because I've got big plans. I want to graduate from Castro Valley High School and go to Stanford University to become a pediatric hematologist-oncologist. I want to see my little brother grow up, and I want to make my mom and dad proud.

But without a match, I might not be able to pursue my dreams. So I don't need hope. I need action. I need people, including African-Americans, to go out and register to make a change and help patients like me.

Nivia Charles attends Castro Valley High School and lives with her family, including her younger brother, Dorrien, and a Yorkie named Stormy, in San Leandro.