South Asian Leukemia Patient Needs Marrow Donor Urgently

South Asian Leukemia Patient Needs Marrow Donor Urgently

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As she lies in her hospital bed in Boston, dozens of relatives, friends, and total strangers are furiously working to find someone whose bone marrow matches hers.

On Dec. 10 last year, after she was admitted to the ER feeling unwell, 24-year-old Sonia Rai was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a form of blood cancer.

The U.S.-born Rai, who has been working as a risk analyst for a Boston company for the last three years, thought she would be in and out of the ER in a few hours. She has not left the hospital since that day, and her Los Angeles-based parents and only sibling, brother Sumit, have been at her bedside almost constantly.

Her doctors at Mass General told the Rai family that her only chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant.

Without wasting a moment, relatives and friends swung into action. They launched a “CureSonia.org” campaign, using Facebook and other social media to urge people to register in the National Bone Marrow Registry.

Most matches occur within ethnicity, but unfortunately, of the eight million people currently registered in the National Bone Marrow Registry, only 1.8 percent are of South Asian descent. A South Asian has a roughly 1 in 20,000 chance of finding a match, so it is important to increase the number of South Asians registered as potential bone marrow donors, said Rai’s Bay Area-based cousin, Kamini Rai Cormier, who is also active in the CureSonia campaign. Siblings have a better chance of being a match, but Sumit is not.

Based on Rai’s genetics, her match will likely be a blend of Southeast Asian and Caucasian, a genetic pool commonly found in Hawaii, the Philippines, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Burma, Nepal and northern India.

Registering as a potential bone marrow donor is easy. Registrants must be between 18 and 60 years old, meet specific health guidelines and be willing to donate to any patient in need.

A tissue sample is collected by swabbing inside the registrant’s cheek and the information is sent to the National Bone Marrow Registry.

Since launching the CureSonia.org campaign three weeks ago, the Rai network, with the help of some 500 volunteers, has set up about 100 drives nationwide. Hindu and Sikh temples, mosques, the India Community Center in Milpitas, Calif., and Chinmaya Mission centers have willingly become sites to hold drives.

If a donor match is not found within the next five weeks, Rai might have to have a cord blood transplant, which is not as effective as a bone marrow transplant. There are cord blood registries worldwide that store cord blood taken from the umbilical cord of new-born babies.

Volunteers can get involved by contacting curesoniadrives@gmail.com.