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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meet Tami's no longer Anonymous Stem Cell Donor!

I'm sure you've all wondered at least once or twice: Who is my cousin Tami's anonymous stem cell donor?

This is Scott, the person who gave her a second chance, literally saving Tami's life, by donating his stem cells to her. Scott joined the marrow donor program registry in 1994 and was quite surprised when he was contacted in May of 2009 and told he was a potential match for a patient in need.

Statistics held true. It's said that most patients will find a match within their own ethnic group. Scott is part Japanese but also part Native Hawaiian and Chinese. And even though he is multi-ethnic, he was a perfect 10/10 match for Tami who is of Japanese descent.

Scott's story about how he became involved in the National Marrow Donor Program began years ago with a little girl, stricken with Leukemia, named Alana Dung. In his own words by email he said:
I can't help but think how crazy it is, that if I didn't see Alana Dung's donation poster at campus center at University of Hawaii at Manoa when I was 19 years old, I would have never gone up to the donation booth and registered. Fast forward now 15 years and it has made a difference. How incredible.

Adelia Dung hugs daughter Alana.
Photo by Alvin Chung from the Star-Bulletin

Little Alana Dung lived in Hawaii, had Leukemia and was 3 years old when she passed away after relapsing following a bone marrow transplant from an anonymous donor in Taiwan. Her family has since created the Alana Dung Foundation "To encourage research efforts by providing financial support to worthy research organizations and individuals throughout the world for clinical studies and research directed at improving the quality of life for sick children, improving treatment and preventing disease" as her legacy.

I actually heard about Alana when I was working on creating Tami's donor drive effort. When Alana's parents were told she would need a marrow transplant the state of Hawaii literally rose up to save her. Over 30,000 people joined the registry in 2 months time. That is a phenomenal number based on both the total quantity and speed the registrations were gathered in. Of the 30,788 people who joined the registry to try to help Alana, one (Scott) would go on to help Tami overcome Myelodysplasia by donating his stem cells to her 15 years later.


Mokumanamana and the "Tourist" Hawaiian Islands

Scott, a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Hawaii, says the timing of the donation request posed a potential conflict. He was about to depart on a field work expedition to Mokumanamana (aka Necker) Island, (a very small, remote and inhospitable island) many miles from the Hawaiian tourist destinations most of us are familiar with.

After talking to trusted friends and family members Scott ultimately followed his desire to help others in need and decided he wanted to give the donation. But he was concerned about the timeline and wanted to give the donation as quickly as possible so he would have more recovery time before leaving on a 21 day "Survivor" like research marathon on Mokumanamana Island .

Doctor's had first considered a bone marrow donation rather than a stem cell donation for Tami but due to Scott's upcoming field work, and the possibility of lingering soreness at the donation site if he gave marrow, Tami's doctors decided to do an adult stem cell donation instead (aka PBSC or Peripheral Blood Stem Cell). This meant that Scott took a medicine called filgrastim for several days to stimulate the marrow production in his bones, causing stem cells to be released from his bone marrow into his bloodstream to be harvested.


Stem Cell Donation Day!

While the Be The Match website says:
PBSC donors can expect to experience a headache, or bone or muscle aches for several days before collection, a side effect of the filgrastim injections. These effects disappear shortly after collection. Most PBSC donors report that they feel completely recovered within 2 weeks of donation.
Scott said the only side effect he experienced was that he was tired the rest of the day and slept a bunch but felt almost normal by the next morning.

Scott's fiance was at his side the entire day. He said it was great to have her there because he was supposed to keep his arms outstretched and clench two tennis balls, one in each hand, to help his blood circulate. So when his nose and face itched, she scratched it for him.

From Hawaii to Seattle... Scott's Stem Cell Donation arrived at Fred Hutchinson for Tami's transplant. This is how the majority of transplants take place, with the donor and patient living in separate cities and even countries. The stem cells can be flown to the patient's location so even international donations are extremely common and now comprise at least 50% of the transplants that take place.

You may recall that Tami's Transplant Doctor said that she received a "very good dose of stem cells." When Tami told Scott this he laughed and said they kept him on the apheresis machine (a type of centrifuge that separates the stem cells from the rest of the blood) for 8-9 hours. I've read most people are on the machine for around 4 hours at a time and may be asked to donate over the course of 1-3 days. He said they kept looking at him and he was doing so well and felt so good that they kept him on apheresis for twice the normal amount of time. The machine works by removing blood from one arm, running it through the separating machine, storing the stem cells and returning the rest of the blood back into the donors other arm.


Post Donation with Nurse Betty at the outpatient clinic.

Says Scott:
Giving bone marrow/or stems cells is a really important thing to think about on so many levels. It's a part of your body, the very essense that creates blood and life in you. The donation process is also complicated by the fact that the recipient is anonymous. Very little information is given about the person to protect their privacy. It makes it very hard though to connect in a meaningful way to the person and struggle, and really assess what your true feelings are about the situation...

I think on a really basic level my first instinct is to help people, so I decided I had to try and do this before I left on my trip...

Scott and his family.

To finally have a face and a name and know that Scott is the person who saved Tami's life was quite overwhelming. I felt ecstatic and elated then broke into tears when I first saw him in a photo. It was like gaining a new family member but no one had a baby or got married. Such an unusual circumstance.

Our family can never thank Scott enough for his altruism and compassion. We would like to thank him for giving Tami back her health and her future. With the deepest gratitude I also want to say thank you for giving her back to her friends. She means so much to so many people, many of whom I've met in person, spoken to on the phone or have emailed with since her diagnosis. The way everyone has reached out to help her from her colleagues (past and present), neighbors, childhood friends and even people who don't know her but feel connected to her through her website and blog, has been overwhelming at times, in a great way. We realize and appreciate that it's because Tami is such an incredible person that so many people have made such incredible efforts to help her along this past year and a half.

Someday I'm certain I'll be creating a blog post with photos of Tami and Scott meeting in person for the first time. Until then, please continue to let others know about this blog and Tami's website. Please encourage them to consider joining the National Marrow Donor Program. Like Scott, they may one day be able to give someone the gift of life. How many of us are ever afforded such an opportunity? I joined the registry in 1995 and am still waiting for my phone to ring.

When I asked Tami if she wanted to include a personal message to Scott in this blog post she said absolutely. And here it is:
September 21, 2010

Dear Scott,

In February 2009, when I was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), I first asked what MDS is. I had never heard of the disease and we didn’t have a family history of the disease or leukemia. My doctors informed me that they’re not sure what causes the disease, but what they did know was the only way to cure the disease was to undergo a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. When I began to research the disease, I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t believe when the doctors said that I would need to find a donor and that the statistics for matching people of Asian descent was low. I thought how would I ever find anyone? I still to this day was amazed that three matches were found for me. I remember the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Hospital (SCCA) letting me know that two of the three people were contacted but the best match was the first, an Asian male in his 30’s in the US. When I received my transplant last June 2009, they told me that the stem cells had to be flown into Seattle so I knew the donor wasn’t from Seattle, which has a large Asian population. To this day, I thought it will be someone in California.

So, June 30, 2010, one year post-transplant, I requested the form to fill out to learn the identity of my donor. I still remember the paperwork that I was given at the SCCA warning me that I may not ever know the identity as some people don’t reveal who they are. They also warned me that the person may be so different from me and wouldn’t want to be contacted. The only thing I thought is that I’m filling out the form and taking the chance that I would get to meet the person someday that saved my life. All I ever wanted to do was to thank him for giving me another chance.

Well August 27th was an amazing day for me. I received the letter from the SCCA informing me my donor was you and that you were from Honolulu. I thought I can’t just call you out of the blue so I’ll email you first hoping you would respond. You did. I then called you that night and you were everything that I imagined the person could be all these months. I could tell you are an extraordinary, considerate, and thoughtful person with a heart of gold. These past days emailing back and forth have been amazing and all I can say is that I can’t wait to meet you, your fiancĂ©, and family in person. My family and I are looking forward to spending time with you in Honolulu. I'm hoping that more people can read our story and will hopefully generate more donors like yourself. I still can't believe its been 15 years since you donated at Alana's drive.

Thank you so much for the gift of life and for becoming a special person in my life.


Tami

And a few more people who wanted to say thank you to Scott! They include some of Tami's incredibly supportive colleagues, friends of the family, and some of my friends here in California and nationwide. I'll be creating a "Thank You Scott" photo album so If you would like to send a thank you picture to add to it please make one and email it to photo@helpingtami.org

Some of Tami's colleagues who, no joke, may be some of the most, if not the most supportive colleagues ever! Not only did many join the registry on her behalf, they held fundraisers, brought food by the house and did all kinds of things that made things easier for her and her family during this very difficult time. And it wasn't just her local colleagues who pitched in. It was a huge amount of love and concern from employees nationwide who reached out and did all they could to support her.


More of Tami's Colleagues


Friends at Flextronics


Family friends who wanted to thank Scott personally...


And a friend who recently moved to the islands giving a classic Hawaiian greeting!


Click Image to Enlarge

Besides asking me how Tami was doing each week, many of the people in this photo joined the registry on Tami's behalf and many helped out (hands on) with the donor drive effort here in California. Beside me are my friends Jewel and Chuck Savadelis who shot the PSA video at the donor drive at the Tech Museum last year. Maureen in the front left volunteered at the same drive. George, to the right of Chuck actively supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Loretta (peeking out from the center of the back row), Keith (third from the right in the second row), and John (to the right of Keith) all helped to produce the What's up Wit' That episode about Bone Marrow Donation that won the Wave Award last year and aired nationally on Public Access TV. And Keith, Loretta and John all volunteered at the Tech Museum donor drive. You can see John holding a sign in the video and Loretta sitting at the swabbing table.

People who know me well know I have a bunch of dog loving friends who I met years ago on Dogster.com. They were really a pillar of support to me when Tami was first diagnosed and throughout the time since. Over the years they have become like family to me and they in turn took an interest in Tami's illness as if she were their family too. In tribute to Scott they made these pictures to thank him for donating his stem cells to Tami...

Ming and Dottie. Dottie's owner thought for sure the photo would be of Ming calmly posing with his sign on and Dottie reaching over and eating Ming's sign. LOL


Rosie says Thank You Scott!

Daisy's owner, Wendy, was the person who helped me to maintain this blog back when we were posting every day with updates about how Tami was feeling and doing. Wendy has been a longtime member of the National Marrow Donor Registry and has been contacted on several occasions as a potential donor. So far she has not had the opportunity to make a donation to a patient in need as better matches were located in two instances. Sadly, the one patient she was the best match for became too sick to receive a transplant.

And this is my pup Kitai who was very happy to pose for this picture.

So Thank You to Scott from all of us! The debt of gratitude is immense and can never be truly expressed. We look forward to one day thanking Scott in person for his selflessness and hope his story will inspire others who have been afraid to join the marrow registry to go ahead and sign up. Maybe they will also be able to save a life someday.

CLICK HERE to learn how you can join the marrow donor registry in person or using a mail in test kit!

2 comments:

  1. Great update Stacie! It is great to share with readers about the experience of the donor. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is such a beautiful story!! Thank you for sharing it. My brother has ALL Leukemia and I see now we are blessed beyond words that I am his match. We are doing the stem cell transplant in a few weeks. I want to get my information from his hospital & join the Donor Registry asap though. I just had tears in my eyes this story's so touching. God Bless You All!

    ReplyDelete



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