Bone marrow donor travels to SF to help adopted brother

March 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
There was a special reunion at San Francisco International Airport on Friday. A 27-year-old man flew in from Vietnam to try to save his brother's life. He is a rare match as a donor for his 5-year-old brother and he hasn't seen his little brother since the boy was adopted years ago.

Last year, 5-year-old Colin McFadden was diagnosed with a deadly bone marrow disease. What's worse it's difficult to find a donor match because there are not many Asians listed in the national bone marrow registry. So when Colin's big brother in Vietnam turned out to be a match, all they had to do is get him to the United States.

Colin likely doesn't remember the last time he saw his big brother, but Colin with some help from little sister Ciara, was happy to be the first to greet him at the airport with a big sign. Ciara was adopted from China.

"I'm meeting Thu," said Colin.

Colin was 14 months old when he was adopted, but it's clear from the big smile on his big brother's face, he still remembers little Colin.

Tho Van Luong, 27, lives in a remote community in Northern Vietnam. This is his first inter-continental flight and his first time in the United States. He is here because he is a one in a million match as a bone marrow donor for little Colin who suffers from aplastic anemia -- a life threatening disease.

"He's saving Colin's life," said John McFadden, Colin's father.

"He's giving Colin the one chance he has for a normal life and we just can't thank him enough. I don't know how you thank somebody for that," said Linda Cross, Colin's mother.

Colin's adoptive parents Cross and McFadden kept in contact with his birth family in Vietnam. So when the 5-year-old was diagnosed, they were lucky big brother Thu was a perfect match. At the airport, Thu shared pictures of his 2-year-old son.

In the process of making arrangements for Thu to come to the U.S. to be a donor, the McFadden's learned his 2-year-old was suffering from an infection and needed a $600 operation. The McFaddens were all too happy to help.

"So, he's very well. After two months after surgery [his son] went back to school," said Tony Tran, a translator.

Thu will be in the U.S. for a month for the bone marrow transplant. The process for little Colin will be much more involved and will take a few months.

Nitu Binnarh is with the Asian-American Donor Program in Alameda. She says Colin is lucky he has a brother.

"There are 10 million people in the national registry and less than 7 percent are actually Asian," Binnarh said. "So for somebody that is from Asian descent, they have a less chance of finding a match."

The McFadden's are telling their story to encourage people to get on the bone marrow donor registry.

"How important it is to register because it will save a life," said McFadden.

The McFaddens live in Carson City, Nevada. So they'll be in the Bay Area for a few months as little Colin goes through the transplant procedure at Children's Hospital in Oakland on April 18.


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