Tuesday, November 21

The color of a life


Friday, October 24, 1997

The color of a life

A disparaging lack of minority bone-marrow donors led one group
on a crusade to educate its community.

By Michelle Navarro

Daily Bruin Contributor

The following four people have something in common: They all
share the desperate need for a bone-marrow donor.

Kimberly Juarez’s vibrant face greets students on their way up
and down Bruin Walk. By looking at the photograph of the
18-year-old Latina in her red formal dress, the thought that for
six years she has been battling acute lymphatic leukemia for her
life doesn’t enter the mind.

Michael Gusman, a 23-year-old Native American from Hilo, Hawaii,
loves working on cars, rebuilding engines, drawing, and laughing
with his family and friends. He too has been diagnosed with acute
lymphoid leukemia.

Ninety-five percent of Zak Rossbach’s bone marrow is gone. The
9-year-old Asian American from Colorado began to develop dark
bruises and had an unstoppable nosebleed earlier this summer. He
eventually was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia.

Toni Payton’s favorite song is "Live Forever" because it "talks
about all the things you want to do in life." Unfortunately,
without a bone-marrow transplant within the next two months, the
17-year-old African American won’t be able to do what she wants to
do in life. Aplastic/fanconi anemia will have taken that chance
from her.

Their haunting pictures and stories were placed around campus in
an effort to make students, especially those of color, aware of how
they can save a life by joining the National Marrow Donor Program’s
registry.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches,
or A3M, and eight other campus organizations held the "UCLA
Communities of Color Bone Marrow Drive." The drive was held at
three locations around campus in an effort to find the perfect
matches for these patients as well as others in need.

A total of 415 students signed up. Although this figure was far
from their original goal of 850, the group still felt the drive was
a success.

The previous year, A3M, Lambda Phi Epsilon and UCLA’s Asian
Pacific Coalition had organized a drive in the name of Alan, an
AIDS researcher from UC Berkeley and Garrett Hamm, a 28-year-old
Thai-American. This year, they chose to reach out to students of
all ethnicities.

"A few months ago, Berkeley had a communities of color drive and
they had almost 900 donors. A friend of Alan’s contacted me and
wanted to know if we wanted to do a similar drive," said Valerie
Nguyen, a recruitment specialist for A3M.

"We were aware of the fact that not a lot of people of color are
in the registry. So, we wanted to approach everyone at once to not
waste resources," said Johann Diel, senior recruitment specialist
for A3M.

The friend of Alan’s who contacted A3M, was Felicia Sze, a UCLA
public health graduate student. Sze saw the lack of ethnic listed
donors on the registry and decided to do something about it.

"Bone Marrow type is matched genetically, so the chances for a
match are better in your own ethnicity," Sze said.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, out of the 2.9
million donors on the registry, 7.6 percent are black, 7.1 percent
are Latino, 5.6 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, and only 1.3
percent are Native American.

The disparity between Caucasian and ethnic donors is what also
got A3M, a program dedicated to educating the Asian community and
recruiting donors, started five years ago.

"One of the patients in a family was diagnosed," Diel said. "At
the time there were less than 2,000 Asians in the registry. After
the patient passed away the family didn’t want to let that happen
again. So a group of volunteers banded together and formed the
organization."

Diel speculated that the reason for the small percentage of
ethnic donors on the registry "comes from the fact that (the)
community has a culture of not coming out with medical things, like
not letting any of the dirty laundry out of the family."

Whatever the reason, A3M and other campus groups made a plea to
students to sign up.

The 15-minute procedure involves filling out a consent form, a
brief medical screening to review the form and lastly, two to three
tablespoons of blood is drawn from an arm.

"Don’t be afraid. If you don’t understand anything about the
procedure, ask questions," Diel said.

From there, if someone’s name ever comes up as a preliminary
match for a patient, they will be contacted for further testing. At
that time, donors do have the right to refuse. However that is
exactly why Soji Kashiwagi, A3M public-education coordinator, feels
people should realize what signing up on the registry means.

"Before joining, you should know about the commitment,"
Kashiwagi said, "Because for a person waiting for marrow to hear
that there’s a match out there, but they said ‘no,’ can be really
disappointing."

One Lambda Phi Epsilon pledge who helped recruit students said
that those who refused to donate did so because of lack of
time.

"Usually the flyer alone didn’t work in getting them to come in,
we had to talk to them a little," said Bruce Wu, a first-year
undeclared student, "A lot of people didn’t do it because they
didn’t have time. They were probably just scared."

Fear of needles or of the pain was another popular reason for
avoiding the drive.

"I did it anyway," grinned Van Lam, a third-year sociology
student as he proudly displayed his "badge of honor" – his elbow
decorated with a swab of cotton and a band-aid.

Those who did donate realized that a little pain and fifteen
minutes out of a busy schedule is worth the life of another.

"I did it even though I really, really hate pain," said Chi
Ninh, a first-year communications studies student. "It’s for a good
cause."

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.