Sonia Rai is a 24-year-old South Asian-American and a UC Irvine graduate who has been recently diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia), which is cancer of the blood. A bone marrow transplant is her only hope for survival, yet the odds of finding a match are 1 in a million for South Asian-Americans. According to A3M, Asian-Americans make up only 5.1% out of the all the donors in the country’s bone marrow registry.
The Asian-interest fraternity, Lambda Phi Epsilon, hosts an annual drive with the group A3M (Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches) in hopes of garnering more names for the registry list. Most bone marrow transplants require a specific match, with ethnicity playing a key factor.
The first drive organized in 1994 by Lambda Phi Epsilon was the largest bone marrow typing drive in the history of the National Marrow Donor Program and the Asian-American Donor Program. This fraternity felt the need to create such a drive after one of their brothers from Stanford was diagnosed with leukemia. Unfortunately he did not find a match, but through the various drives put on by all of their 50 international chapters, they were able to find a match through their San Diego drive for Matthew Nguyen, a 25-year-old Asian-American with AML.
“Most people have a false stigma about bone marrow donations, which prevents them from registering despite it being a 5-10 minute process,” said Lawrence An, the fraternity’s president and a fifth-year biochemistry major.
The process of registering requires only a swab of the cheek and filling out paperwork. Bone Marrow donation has even transformed to a process similar to donating blood. Most transplants are done through PBSC donation, which safely separates blood cells for donation.
“The onset of leukemia can happen to anyone at any age to any race,” said Sean Pan, the fraternity’s Internal Vice President and a third-year electrical engineer. “Since Asian-Americans make up such a small number on the registry, it is important to target students and help increase the chances of finding a match.”
The UC systems continue to provide the largest registry drives, especially for Asian-American students for A3M. Each of these drives usually garners 500 new people and helps improve the chances of finding a match.
“These drives are used to show everyone how quick and easy the process to register is,” said An. “Most people are startled at the statistics of Asian-Americans in the registry and will register after clearing the false ideas associated with bone marrow donation.”
An said his fraternity is always on the lookout to find new ways to help the Asian-American community and improve the lives of Asian-Americans.
It takes only one to match; yet the statistics of finding a match for Asian-Americans are near impossible. It only takes 5 minutes to possibly save a life and improve the chances for all Asian-Americans with leukemia.
Do you have five minutes to save a life?