Bone marrow drive on campus allows students to serve as potential match for mixed-race leukemia patient.
In January, UC Davis students were given the chance to save a life by means of a simple cheek swab. The Asian American Donor Program hosted a bone marrow drive on the Quad for Lara Casalotti, a 24-year-old acute myeloid leukemia patient.
Casalotti was diagnosed in December 2015, and, because she is of mixed race, needs a very specific bone marrow donor by April 2016 to survive. With the help of organizations worldwide, Casalotti’s family has been working to find a match through various means — including university campus marrow drives.
“At our drive, any student and faculty that [is] between the ages of 18 and 44 [can participate],” Asian American Donor Program Outreach Coordinator Diana Hong said. “If they are a possible donor, they can provide a cheek swab sample and a consent form. They’re added to the national registry and they are there until they’re 60 [years old], and that’s when they are removed.”
According to Casalotti’s aunt, Sujitpan Lamsam, Casalotti collaborated with migrant workers in Thailand when she “felt some aching in her bones” and went to the hospital, where she received an instant diagnosis. When the news came, Casalotti’s family began campaigning right away.
The program launched into action when Carol Gillespie, executive director of Asian American Donor Program, received a call from her cousin in New York notifying her of Casalotti’s situation.
“We contacted all our mixed race groups,” Gillespie said. “We sent out a press release so the media would know about it right away. We’ve received a lot of contact — a lot of patients [in need of mixed race donors] are coming forward.”
Aside from campaigns in the U.S., Casalotti and her family also have established efforts in Thailand through the Red Cross, and in the United Kingdom.
“It looks like [our recruiter] is working with [organizations such as Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative (BPSHI)] and Alpha Phi Omega (APO),” Gillespie said. “So actually, [the campaign is] all over the world — Thailand, Italy, Australia — and it’s really becoming a movement, in my opinion.”
In collaboration with the Asian American Donor Program, Casalotti and her family are doing their best to spread awareness about the lack of mixed race donors in the national registry.
“[Lara] is of Chinese, Thai and […] Italian origin, and as a result it’s very hard to find a match,” Lamsam said. “We have a lot of awareness [regarding a lack of mixed race donors] that we’ve been able to generate through social media. [One of] the things we’re trying to work on is [converting] that awareness to actually donating.”
Thanks to the efforts made by Casalotti and her family, the campaign for mixed race donors is evolving into a worldwide phenomenon.
“This is the first really big global campaign that we’ve ever seen,” Gillespie said. “Usually people can only relate to people in their own neighborhood or their own state. The registry throughout the world shares donors with each other. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a global campaign for a person.”
Hong encouraged UC Davis students to participate in the drive, and to also look into the movement for mixed race donors worldwide.
“It’s all voluntary,” Hong said. “There’s no guarantee [that one will become a match]; it’s like winning the lottery. We always tell everyone it only takes a couple minutes out of your day.”
According to Hong, there are 12.5 million people registered through “Be the Match,” the national registry for bone marrow donors. Of these people, only four percent are from the mixed-race community.
“We encourage everyone to register, not just the mixed race community,” Hong said. “There are over 14,000 patients per year. [Donors] might not match for Lara but they can match for someone else who is searching [for a donor].”
Though Casalotti’s family and the Asian American Donor Program are fighting hard for Casalotti, they said this fight is just as much about the thousands of other patients in need of a donor.
“The big picture is to recruit more committed donors,” Gillespie said. “We’re a global society, we travel like crazy. Why not help a patient that’s overseas? [We need to] bring more awareness to the community.”
“There are going to be some people who don’t want to [or are unable to] join the registry,” Gillespie said. “They can always volunteer at the drive, spread the word, or donate money. There are always things that they can do. Let’s include everyone.”
Casalotti’s family, with the help of the Asian American Donor Program, continue to persevere in the search for mixed race donors worldwide.
Written by: Allyson Tsuji – firstname.lastname@example.org