Friday, November 15, 1996
The low number of Asian bone
marrow donors has put Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches into
action, helping those who need transplants.By Kathryn Combs
Daily Bruin Contributor
Garrett Hamm, a 27-year-old Thai-American, was once a star high
school athlete active in basketball and baseball.
At age 17, he was on top of the world Â until he was
diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Following his diagnosis, Hamm lived
through a virtual nightmare; he underwent steroid treatment,
remission, relapse, the mutation of his condition into
myelodysplasia, monthly blood transfusions, ulcers, pneumonia and
Hamm and his adoptive family are now undertaking the ultimate
challenge Â the search for a bone marrow donor who could save
Akiko Hall and her boyfriend Alan have been together for nearly
two years. As in any relationship, they’ve experienced their ups
and downs, but what they are now experiencing is a down that
neither had ever expected.
In January 1995, Alan, an AIDS researcher at UC Berkeley, was
diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia. With Alan given only five to
six years to live, the couple is desperately seeking a marrow
Through personal stakes in cases like these, UCLA students have
become involved with the Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches.
In August 1991, the Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) was
founded in response to the lack of Asian bone marrow donors.
Hamm’s sister Lovdy, a UCLA alumna, first came to A3M four
months ago to search for a compatible donor for her brother.
"I contacted them four months ago when it was determined that my
brother needed a bone marrow transplant," she said. "Besides the
actual search, they are extremely supportive … It’s helpful for
me (to do this) for myself, my brother and my community. Whatever
happens, I would certainly like to know that I did everything I
could for my brother."
Akiko also has ties to UCLA. A graduate student at UCLA’s School
of Public Health, she actually initiated the most recent bone
marrow drive because of the high number of Asians attending
As a branch of the National Marrow Donors Program, A3M is
committed to the improvement of the health and welfare of all
people through education and outreach programs. Its goal is to
recruit bone marrow donors of Asian descent.
A3M will be holding a bone marrow drive at UCLA on Nov. 17-18 at
the Wooden Center racquetball courts.
There, it will be providing information on the challenge of
finding bone marrow donors, how people can get involved and what
the donation process entails.
For many patients, such as Alan, every day without a bone marrow
donor makes the fight to overcome their illness even harder.
According to the National Marrow Donors Program, there are over
2.4 million donors registered nationwide. However, Asian donors
make up only 5.4 percent of this group, making them the group with
the second-lowest percentage registered. The only other ethnicity
with lower numbers is the Native American category, with 1.3
percent. The Caucasian category makes up 59.8 percent of the
However, in cases like Hamm’s, there are times when no living
blood relatives can be found. This is where A3M comes in.
According to Enisha Narang, a recruitment specialist for A3M,
patients in need of transplants can often receive donations from
immediate family members because their genetic material is closely
For Hamm, who is adopted, this is not an option. Thus, the next
best place for him to seek out a donor is within his ethnicity.
"Marrow is such a difficult thing to match, especially when
ethnicity really plays a key role," said Narang.
According to Narang, the chances of finding a match outside
family are slim to none.
"The chances can be anywhere from 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1
million," she said. "It (marrow) is genetic; you inherit it like
you do eye and hair color."
The drive is being co-sponsored by Lambda Phi Epsilon, a
primarily Asian fraternity, and UCLA’s Asian Pacific Coalition.
"If we’re not going to help, who will? … I believe that
everyone should get out and try to help other people as much as
they can; it’s a rewarding experience,"said Ken Whang, first
vice-president of Lambda Phi Epsilon.
Members of the fraternity will be volunteering at the drive next
week as part of their official philanthropy.
"One person could give another the chance to live. The best
doctors in the world have the skills to save them … but there’s
no chance for them without a donor," Narang said.
Photo courtesy of Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches
Akiko Hall’s (r.) boyfriend Alan is in desperate need of a bone