Minority bone marrow donors needed

April 2, 2008 7:49:09 PM PDT
Earlier this year we learned one of our good friends and colleagues here at ABC7 has leukemia. Jason Fong has already had two rounds of chemotherapy and now it's clear his best chance of recovery will come with a bone marrow transplant. Jason is Chinese so it's very likely any match will come from someone of the same ethnicity, but there's a severe shortage of people from diverse backgrounds in the registry. Here's a closer look at what it takes to join the registry, what's involved in donating, and how easy it can be to save a life.

Myland Hui is an avid cyclist, but about a year and a half ago he started losing his strength and endurance.

"I would say about a month later, I even had a hard time walking up the stairs to come home," said Myland Hui.

Myland soon learned he had leukemia and after several rounds of chemo, it became clear he needed a bone marrow transplant.

"That was the only way I was going to survive," said Myland.

"We knew the odds were somewhat tough and I knew the odds for someone Asian was even tougher," said Carolyn Hui.

"Actually there's no such thing as an Asian, you're either Chinese, Japanese or Korean. So if you're diagnosed and you're Korean, if you're diagnosed with Leukemia and your Korean your most likely donor is going to be Korean," said Carol Gilespie from the Asian American Donor Program.

As Carol explains, the key is to diversify the registry.

"There's a 35-45 percent chance of finding a donor in the current registry if you're an ethnic minority. Well if you're Caucasian, you have about an 80 to 85 percent chance of finding a donor," said Carol.

Joining the registry is a simple and painless process, no needles, no blood, just the simple swabbing of the inner cheek a few times, and filling out some forms.

Vivek Kumar registered to become a donor in 2001.

"The number of Indian donors is really tiny, at that point there were about 20,000 South Asians in the registry, and that was really appalling, because we have a billion Indians, but we had such a small representation in the bone marrow registry," said Vivek Kumar, a stem cell donor.

That discovery led Vivek to organize several donor drives targeting the South Asian community, drives similar to this one on Wednesday at San Francisco University.

"I learned that one of the donors I registered in my first drive actually matched another patient so all that effort actually paid off," said Vivek.

And last year, Vivek himself turned out to be a match for a 38 year old woman with leukemia.

He learned he'd be donating his stem cells through a process similar to a blood donation, No surgery, no anesthesia. In fact, 70 percent of donations are now done this way.

His girlfriend documented the process on home video.

"So it started on a Saturday morning when I went to Stanford Medical and got injected with Filgrastim which is a medicine that stimulates my stem cell growth from my bone and moves it into my blood stream," said Vivek.

He had the shots for five mornings, and went to work every day but the last, when the actual donation process began.

"They drained blood, which went thru the aphaeresis machine, which is really a centrifuge, and that's when it centrifuges the blood into the different layers, and they take the stem cells, and they take the stem cell layer out of it. The blood is mixed back and put back into my blood stream," said Vivek.

The shots leading up to the donation did leave him feeling a bit achy and flu-like, but a few Tylenol and Advil got him through it and he was back at work the next day.

"It's really a few days of inconvenience, but the net effect is something you can only dream of. To be able to save somebody's life, I don't know how often I'm going to get this chance," said Vivek.

That same generosity of a stranger gave Myland the chance to live.

"It's so hard to put into words, to thank someone who saved your life," said Myland.

It's been a year since his transplant; a milestone the family just celebrated with Mickey Mouse.

"If I could spend a week in Disneyland with my kids and run around with them for a week, I'm doing pretty well," said Myland.

He's cycling again, as well and savoring every moment of life.

ABC7 is hosting a registry drive
In honor of Jason Fong, our friend and colleague.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
ABC7 Studios
900 Front Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
8 a.m. - 2 p.m.
It's free for ethnic minorities to join.
More information on this drive: ABC7 Bone Marrow Drive

Additional web info:
Asian American Donor Program: www.aadp.org
National Marrow Donor Program: www.marrow.org
Myland & Carolyn Hui's blog: livestrongdahuis.blogspot.com

Wednesday's View From the Bay segment on donating:
View From the Bay segment


Load Comments