A two-year search for a bone marrow donor finally brought good news to Pleasanton resident Janet Liang, a leukemia patient of Asian descent who has attracted more than 20,000 potential bone marrow donors to the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be The Match registry since she was diagnosed with the condition in 2009.
Liang’s quest to find a match, led by two Oakland-based organizations, the Asian American Donor Program (AADP), the National Marrow Donor Program and a coalition of her close friends who use the name Team Janet, highlighted the difficulties ethnic minorities face in finding a match. Helping Janet, an organization formed by Liang’s friends to help her find a match, this week confirmed that Be The Match had found a donor for the former UCLA student, who is currently undergoing treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Research and Treatment Center in Houston Texas.
Both Liang and Oakland Hispanic leukemia patient Cynthia Rodriguez’s search for a match, previously featured on Oakland North, have attracted thousands of potential donors to join the Be The Match Registry, which the Marrow Donor Program says has more than 10 million registered donors.
“We are all incredibly grateful and we don’t even know how to start thanking people properly,” said Emily Wang, Janet’s best friend and one of the coordinators of the group Helping Janet. “I am truly touched by people’s generosity and kindness and it gives me hope that other patients will find their match, too.”
Wang said that Liang, who fought to make her own personal appeals for a donor to come forth through YouTube videos and on her personal blog, was notified of the discovery in June and will receive the transplant at MD Anderson in Texas.
“Janet is, of course, floored by all the support, both emotionally, spiritually, and financially, and she knows she may never have had this chance for life without the help from thousands of people,” Wang said.
Liang was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) shortly after her graduation from UCLA in August 2009. She went into remission in June 2010 after treatment, but this only lasted for one and a half years.
“Janet stopped searching for a year after she went into remission and then started the search in full force when she relapsed in December 2011,” Wang said.
Wang said the donor and recipient are kept anonymous from each other for at least one year after the transplant is completed, and if both parties agree to share information, they are introduced to each other a year later. “All we know is that Janet’s match is a 29-year-old man,” Wang said, “We don’t know when he registered, where he lives, or if he registered after hearing about Janet, but we are glad he did.”
Campaigns to find a match for Janet were led by Be The Match, Asian American Donor Program (AADP), Helping Janet, among other organizations. Her cause became an Internet sensation, with thousands of people watching her pleas and supporting the various attempts to help her find a match. Team Janet keeps a calendar of all upcoming drives and activities a regularly updated website, HelpingJanet.com.
Cynthia Carlson, a recruitment supervisor at the National Marrow Donor Program in Oakland, commended community efforts to find a match for Liang and said the organization was making all out efforts to find matches for other patients.
“This is truly great news for Janet,” Carlson said. “At any one time, there are at least 10,000 patients who are searching for their marrow match, so when a patient does find a match it’s a very uplifting event and it makes what we do even better.”
Of the 10 million donors on the Be The Match database, Hispanic donors constitute only 10 percent, while Asian donors and African American donors both constitute seven percent of the registry respectively.
As a result of the low number of people from the various ethnic groups on the national registry, the chances of finding a match are as low is 72 percent for Hispanics, Asians and African Americans, while Caucasian patients have a 93 percent chance of finding a match, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.
Like Liang, 14-year-old Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 12 years old in 2010, has been looking for a match for nearly two years, and her family’s efforts to find a match have been focused on mobilizing the Hispanic community to join the national registry.
Be The Match will hold its next donor drive for Rodriguez at Oakland’s St. Elizabeth Parish on July 29 between 9:30 am and 1:30 pm. The drive will be held at 1500 on 34th Avenue. Find more details about this drive here.