All it takes to register to save the life of a person with a blood disease such as leukemia is a simple swab of the cheek, which will allow the donor to be uniquely matched with an individual in need of a marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant. Registering as a donor is as simple as that.
If matched, it would most likely be with someone who shares the donor’s ancestry. And while there is an ongoing need for donors of all genetic backgrounds to sign up on the national Be the Match Registry, there is a dire shortage of non-Europeans. As a consequence, non-European patients more often go unmatched and die from their blood disease.
Thirty-eight-year-old Chinese American Alex Tung, who lives in southern California, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in June 2014. His doctor says that he has until Christmas to find a matching donor.
“We need everyone of Asian, African American, Latino, American Indian, Pacific Islander and multiple race ancestry to step forward and join the Be The Match Registry,” says Carol Gillespie, executive director of the nonprofit Asian American Donor Program (AADP).
“There’s such a shortage of Asians and multi-ethnic individuals on the registry [that] each new registrant makes a world of difference,” continues Gillespie. About 800 thousand Asians are registered compared with seven to eight million people of European descent.
ThinkTank Learning, an after-school education program headquartered in Santa Clara, recently partnered with AADP to host marrow registration drives at its Bay Area education centers. The drives resulted in 68 new registrants in the preferred 18- to 44-year-old age range.
In addition, at a registration drive kick-off ceremony Oct. 30, Steven Ma, ThinkTank Learning founder and CEO, presented AADP with a check for $10,000.
“I registered as a possible donor earlier this year, and I can’t think of a better way for the families that are part of the ThinkTank Learning community to become involved,” says Ma. “I am excited to be part of this collaboration. What an honor to be the one to save someone’s life!”
American-born Sunnyvale resident Jason Tzou, 30, who is of Chinese ancestry, registered to be a marrow donor in 2006 when his co-worker at Intuit organized a drive at that company. Six years later, in 2012, a match was found for Tzou.
“I feel it was a mix of luck that I matched and a social responsibility to help those who are unable to help themselves … I’m always more than happy to encourage other people to go through with signing up and donating,” writes Tzou.
Tzou’s match was Jack Chin, who had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2011 at the age of 22.
“Although Jack and I went to the same high school (Monte Vista in Cupertino), we did not overlap, nor did we know each other beforehand. I did, however, have a strong inkling that Jack would be my recipient as there was only two degrees of separation between the two of us (mutual friends or family friends who know both parties),” states Tzou.
“It is because of people like Jason, that I have a chance to live a full happy life when it otherwise would have been abruptly cut short. There are many people out there suffering from terrible blood conditions that are waiting for a donor but never find one. There is nothing that they can do except rely on the willingness of others to get registered and maybe donate if matched. It makes all the difference in the world,” writes Chin.
The Alameda-based Asian American Donor Program, began in 1989 and covers the registration cost for committed registrants. AADP is the first of only three Asian-focused recruitment organizations in the U.S. Check the website (www.aadp.org) for a calendar of registration dates and sites or information on hosting a donor drive.