Mixed Match is feature-length documentary film about the journeys of mixed-race people in the United States who are or were in need of a bone marrow transplant. Individuals with blood diseases such as leukemia often need to take this procedure to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy ones that are able to properly produce all the essential blood cells the human body needs.
Now, the special thing about a bone marrow transplant is that, in order for it to work, the patient and donor must having matching HLA (human leukocyte antigen). This “match” basically means that the two parties have tissues that are immunologically compatible with one another and can therefore transfer bone marrow without the issue of rejection. Because HLA is a combination from both biological parents of an individual, the likelihood of being a perfect match with either parent is zero. However, the likelihood of an HLA match with a sibling is 1 in 4.
For people of mixed-race heritage without a match in their immediate family, the search for potential blood marrow donors is extremely limited as explained in the film. This is partially due to the fact that those on the donor registry both nationally in the U.S. and worldwide are largely made up of the White population. Smaller slices of this registry are made up of the Asian, Black and Hispanic population. And an even smaller portion is dedicated to multiple-race individuals who vary into an endless set of categories such as Asian-Hispanic, Asian-Black, White-Asian-Hispanic, etc.
Filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns follows the founder of a non-profit organization known as Mixed Marrow around the U.S. to meet with families, medical professionals and mixed-race blood marrow donors to shed light on this important issue. Athena Mari Aslipiadis started Mixed Marrow as an initiative to reach out to the multiethnic community and raise awareness about the need for more multiethnic blood marrow donors on the national registry.
The incredible journey this film takes you to explore stories on the end of those giving blood marrow, receiving it, studying it from a medical perspective, creates a heart-warming narrative of how being someone of mixed racial or ethnic descent in these cases really makes all the difference.
While there are just too many stories in the documentary to share, I think one that spoke to me a lot was the story of a child named Hunter. Hunter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia when he was just a year old and passed away two and half years later. Both Hunter’s parents were of mixed race and after months of searching for a potential bone marrow candidate, they found one all the way in France that was not a perfect match but had the potential to save Hunter’s life. Unfortunately, the transplant was unsuccessful.
The way Hunter’s parents recounted the devastation of losing their son brought tears to my eyes. Yet, the redeeming message of their story was that the death of their son did not end in the hospital. It actually started a new fire and drive to help any family going through a similar struggle. So began the Healing Hunter Foundation through which fundraising campaigns and gift donations for young cancer patients are ongoing to this day.
Believe me that Hunter’s story was not the only one in this film that filled my heart with warmth. The incredible generosity of people in the donor registry ready to give at a moment’s notice for a complete stranger and the strength of hospitalized cancers patients toughing through days of radiation therapy are realities captured by this documentary.
The film ends with a call to all viewers to, “Do what we can to help someone in need.” With the alarming need for more mixed-race blood marrow donors, you never know if you or someone around you could be the one to save a life.
Schema Magazine is proud to be the community sponsor of the Tuesday, Oct. 4 screening of Mixed Match at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival.