Please Join the NMDP.
My friend Josh Reiss and I were at Rice together, and now he’s a prosecutor at the Harris County DA’s Office. The love of Josh’s life, his wife Anh, is fighting a blood cancer called Myelodysplastic Syndrome, and needs a bone marrow stem cell transplant. The following is a guest post from Josh:
There are times in life when you never realize something is a problem until it becomes your problem. This is one of those cases. There simply are not enough people registered to be donors in the National Marrow Donor Program. Right now there are approximately 7 million total. There is a critical shortage among Asian and African-Americans. It takes about 10 minutes to register and you truly can save someone’s life.
It might be helpful to explain where we have been, where we are now, and where we hope to go.
Anh and I have been a part of each other’s lives since our Freshman year at Rice. We were engaged during our Junior year and married shortly thereafter. After college we moved to New York City and had two children, Alexandra and Aaron. While in New York Anh attended medical school and completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University. We moved back to Houston in 1999 and have been here since. Anh has been in private practice at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital since that time. We estimate that she has delivered over 3,000 babies during her career and is a very skilled surgeon as well.
Anh has had a remarkable life. She was a refugee from South Vietnam who came with her family to the United States in 1975. Her family first settled in New Orleans before moving to Houston during the oil boom. She is the first in her family to attend college, and in fact attended Rice on a full scholarship.
She has always been careful about her health and diet. Never smoked. Doesn’t drink, etc. So it came as an absolute shock to us in February when she was diagnosed with MDS. In essence, her bone marrow is failing to produce healthy blood cells. The only cure is to have a stem cell transplant from a matching donor. Unfortunately, none of her 5 siblings (the best possible candidates) have matched. Her best opportunity now rests in trying to find a match from the general community.
One of the complicating factors in finding a stem cell donor match is the matter of ethnicity. In general, you are more likely to find a donor match from someone of the same ethnicity. This is not to say that it is impossible, but it is unlikely. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of Asian, and particularly Vietnamese, donors in the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be The Match” Registry.
Since we found out that Anh was diagnosed with MDS our family formed “Team Anh” (www.teamanh.org) as part of an outreach effort to register individuals. We started registering people in earnest during June. Since that time we have registered more than 7,000 people from across the United States; 6,000 have been Vietnamese.
A drive was held at the courthouse and we registered over 200 people in 3 hours. The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center told me that it was perhaps the most successful 3 hour drive they ever held. Anh and I will forever be thankful to Jane Waters, Jennifer Varela and Robert Fickman for helping to organize and promote the event and to all of the people who registered that day. It really was overwhelming.
We have registered a large number of people in a short time, but they are small in comparison to what is required to save a single life. The National Marrow Donor Program estimates that it typically takes 20,000 people to be registered to find a match for one person.
The process for becoming a donor is very simple. You fill out a 4 page form detailing basic contact and health information. This will take about 5 – 10 minutes to complete. You are then given a kit with four large q-tips. Swabs are taken from the inside of your cheeks in the four quadrants of your mouth. It is very similar to brushing your teeth. That’s it.
If you match someone you are contacted by the National Marrow Donor Program to schedule a follow up physical exam. If the donor wants to continue (they can always opt out) they either donate stem cells or bone marrow. The former is the more common and is only somewhat more complicated than a regular blood donation. The latter does tend to scare people, but it occurs now only 10% to 15% of the time. The donor is given anesthesia and will feel a slight backache for a day or two. The recipient’s insurance company pays for everything and the donor never has to leave their home area.
The punchline: if you match and donate you truly can save someone’s life. It is worth the 10 minute commitment to register.
Unfortunately, Anh still has not found a donor match so we are continuing to look and register. We plan to do drives surrounding the Vietnamese New Year Tet and have been promoting drives among Vietnamese student and physicain groups. If our budget allows we also plan to once again attend the Marian Days religious and cultural celebration in Carthage, Missouri. The event is attended by 50,000 Vietnamese-Americans. This past August we registered over 2,000 in three days at the event.
Perhaps the thing that has made me most proud of Anh throughout this whole year has been her conviction that registering people to join the Be The Match registry is not just about her. This is what she told National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”: “If we don’t find a match for me, the fact that we register people, we surely are going to find a match for someone. And if we save one other person’s life, then it will have been worthwhile.”
You never really know that something is a problem in life until it becomes your problem. At the beginning of the year I had never even heard about the National Marrow Donor Program. For obvious reasons it is now something I am quite passionate about. It really does only take 10 minutes to save someone’s life. I encourage everyone to join. If they have questions about becoming a member they can go to the Team Anh web site (www.teamanh.org) or the National Marrow Donor Program (www.nmdp.org).
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