Asian Americans Needed as Bone Marrow Donors
By Daphne Domingo
Above: Members of DCAMN, l-r, Gloria Ip, Assistant Secretary; Leona Wang Bedrossian, Corresponding Secretary; Connie Yu, Secretary; Lung-Lang Cheung, Sound & Video Support Volunteer; Ida Wang, President & Founder of DCAMN; David Wang, Event Chairman, Ida Wang’s husband; Jennifer Sutch, Director of Development, Be The Match Foundation; Vic Carag, Event Co-Chairman, Dr. Carag’s husband; Dr. Ellen Carag, Vice President; Rex Yuen, Event Volunteer & Supporter, brother of Andrew Yuen who lost his battle with leukemia on? 3? Oct. 8, 1993. DCAMN presented a donation of $6,000 to Be the Match, represented by Jennifer Suth.
Arlington, VA—Every four minutes, someone gets diagnosed with a blood-related cancer. If the patient is Asian-American, there’s a one in four chance he or she will not be able to find a match for a life-saving donation of bone marrow. The DC Metropolitan Asian Pacific American Marrow Network is working to improve those odds. The organization focused on how one person can make a significant difference, and how that difference can create a ripple effect which inspires others to do the same, at their recent 14th Annual Banquet for Life.
17-year-old Andrew Yuen passed away in 1994 because of leukemia, after an unsuccessful search for a bone marrow donor match. The lack of Asian American participants in bone marrow and stem cell donor programs shocked Andrew’s aunt, Ida Wang, who decided to take action. She founded the DC Metropolitan Asian Pacific American Marrow Network (DCAMN) to increase awareness and provide education to the local communities about the need for donations, and to dispel myths about the process.
There has apparently been a barrier between Asian Americans and the program. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, 7% of registered donors are Asian American, some 670,000 people. The result is that Asian American patients have only a 73% chance of finding a matching donor. That may sound like a high number, but it is much lower than the match rate for Caucasians, who constitute 71% of the registry with over 6.8 million donors and have a 93% chance to find a match. Having one in four Asian Americans unable to find a life-saving match is a failure rate Wang could simply not abide.
At the banquet, held at China Garden Restaurant in Arlington, Wang and her daughter Leona Wang Bedrossian spoke about the organization’s activities. It has raised over $43,000 to help Asian patient assistance programs through the National Marrow Donor Program, a non-profit organization that provides bone marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants. That organization has a subsidiary, Be the Match, which develops a registry of potential matches between patients and potential donors, as well as providing financial grants to qualifying families for medication, temporary housing and medical co-pays.
Raising the funds is noteworthy, but Wang’s influence has spread beyond that. Hsuan Ou, who is married to Wang’s niece, saw a video of 25-year-old Janet Liang literally pleading for her life from her hospital bed. Janet had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and was in desperate need of a transfusion. In the video, she beseeched people, especially Chinese people, to register as donors.
The video inspired Ou. Within days, he was coordinating a large donation drive at eight college campuses in the metropolitan DC area, including the University of Maryland at College Park, George Washington University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Eastern Virginia Medical School and George Mason University. He also helped produce a public service announcement video featuring Survivor: Cook Islands winner Yul Kwon, inviting students and alumni to participate. Ou shared his belief that “we find that the quickest way to happiness is helping others.” As a result, over 350 students were registered during that first drive.
A donor fitting 9 of the 10 qualifiers was identified for Janet Liang in June, and a transfusion was performed in September. However, the long wait, the years of enduring chemotherapy and other medical procedures since her original diagnosis in 2009, proved too much to conquer. Janet passed away, and her funeral occurred the day before the October banquet.
Banquet attendees between the ages of 18 and 44 were encouraged to get tested that very evening. All that is required for the test is a few minutes of paperwork and a swabbing of the inside of the cheek. Participants quickly learned that the process is less stringent than brushing one’s teeth. While the records stay on file for several years, Be the Match estimates that only 1 in 540 registrants will ever get asked to donate. Of course, registrants always retain the option to decline if a match is made.
There is a current drive to save the life of two-year-old Jeremy Kong of San Francisco. Jeremy suffers with a rare form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, diagnosed in June. He desperately needs a bone marrow transplant. His story can be found at http://thekongfamily.net/jeremy. Videos at the website show a sweet and brave little boy, his spirit undaunted. But every day counts at this stage, and Jeremy needs help immediately.
Registering as a donor not only helps children like Jeremy, young women like Janet Liang, or young men like Andrew Yuen. It might also help you someday, or a member of your family.
In addition to adding new registrants, DCAMN, represented by Wang and Rex Yuen, Andrew’s brother, presented a check to the Be the Match Foundation for $6000. The banquet’s fundraising activities and celebration began with musical performances by students of Dr. Tzi-Ming Yang’s Piano Studio in Gaithersburg, MD. Afterwards, Reverend Dr. Samuel To of Chinese Bible Church in College Park, MD bestowed a blessing to the 130 attendees.
For more information, please contact the DC Metropolitan Asian Pacific American Marrow Network at http://dcmetroapamn.org/ or Be the Match at http://bethematch.org.